Causal inference in medicine: A reaction to the report, 'Incidence of Minamata Disease in Communities along the Agano River, Niigata, Japan - Patterns of the exposure and official diagnosis of patients'

Toshihide Tsuda, Yoshio Mino, Eiji Yamamoto, Hiroaki Matsuoka, Akira Babazono, Jun Shigemi, Masaya Miyai

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Kondo's 'Incidence of Minamata Disease in Communities along the Agano River, Niigata, Japan (Jap. J. Hyg. 51:599-611;1996)' is critically reviewed. The data of the article were obtained from most of the residents living in the Agano river villages where Minamata disease was discovered in June, 1965. However, sampling proportions were much different between in the population base and in the cases. The method of identification of cases from the data and the reason for the difference were not clearly demonstrated. The citations of reference articles are insufficient despite the fact that other epidemiologic studies on methyl-mercury poisoning have been reported not only in Japan, but also around the world. His 'analysis of the recognized patients' is erroneous. Both the sampling scheme of information of hair mercury and the modeling of the analysis are based on Kondo' s arbitrary interpretation, not on epidemiologic theory. His 'analysis of the rejected applicants' is also erroneous. His calculations of the attributable proportion are incorrect and self-induced in both the assignments of data and analysis of data. Kondo has failed to study the epidemiologic theories in light of changes in the field. Therefore, his article is lacking in epidemiologic theory, a logical base and scientific inference. In Japan, epidemiologic methodology has rarely been used in studies on Minamata Disease in either Kumamoto and Niigata. The government has used neurologically specific diagnosis based on combinations of symptoms to judge the causality between each of symptoms and methyl-mercury poisoning. Epidemiologic data obtained in Minamata, Kumamoto in 1971 indicate that the criteria set by the government in 1977 have produced much more false-negative patients than false-positive patients. As a result, a huge number of symptomatic patients, including those with peripheral neuropathy or with constriction of the visual field, did not receive any help or compensation until 1995. The authors emphasize that the causal relationship between each symptom and methyl- mercury exposure should be reevaluated epidemiologically in Japan.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)511-526
Number of pages16
JournalJapanese Journal of Hygiene
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1997



  • Critical appraisal
  • Epidemiology
  • Methyl-mercury poisoning
  • Minamata disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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