Uncertainty in the relation between exposure to magnetic fields and brain cancer due to assessment and assignment of exposure and analytical methods in dose-response modeling

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999;895:141-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb08082.x.


Incomplete scientific knowledge ensures that, in every study, uncertainty will enter the processes of exposure estimation and exposure-response modeling. In the light of the heated debate about the health effects of magnetic fields resulting from power production and usage, we undertook a sensitivity analysis to evaluate uncertainty related to key decisions in a previous study of brain cancer and occupational exposure to magnetic fields. The findings appeared to be relatively insensitive to most variations in the methods of exposure assessment, exposure assignment, and data analysis. The results can be visualized by defining bands of uncertainty about a best-bet estimate of the association based on our original study. These bands of methodological uncertainties were similar in magnitude to the conventional 95% confidence interval, but they provide a measure of the potential range of systematic bias in the results, rather than reflecting statistical variability alone. The methodology employed here can be applied to other studies, and other researchers are encouraged to conduct sensitivity analysis in order to estimate methodological uncertainty as an alternative to statistical confidence intervals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design
  • Sensitivity and Specificity