Clair Patterson and Robert Kehoe's paradigm of "show me the data" on environmental lead poisoning

Environ Res. 1998 Aug;78(2):71-8. doi: 10.1006/enrs.1997.3808.


In 1925, Robert A. Kehoe enunciated a paradigm predicated upon categorical distinction between expectations and conjecture ("show me the data" mentality) from hard scientific facts on exposure outcomes. It led to a precedent-setting system of voluntary self-regulation by lead industry as a model for environmental control and implicitly signaled the level of industrial responsibility for lead pollution. It combined a cascading uncertainty rule (there is always uncertainty to be found in a world of imperfect information) with a highly skewed cost-benefit concept (immediate benefits of tetraethyl lead additives must be weighed against possible future health hazards). Many studies were funded by the lead industry to develop a theoretical framework for the paradigm which served as a strong defensive strategy against lead critics. It resulted in an unfettered growth in automotive lead pollution to over 270,000 tons per year in the United States and 350,000 tons per year worldwide during the early 1970s. Clair Patterson is credited with being the first person to mount an effective challenge against the Kehoe paradigm, and with his success came an upsurge of activity and attention to the risks of environmental lead pollution on public health.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Chemical Industry / history
  • Environmental Pollution / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollution / history*
  • Environmental Pollution / legislation & jurisprudence
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Lead Poisoning / etiology
  • Lead Poisoning / history*
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / history
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control
  • Public Health / history
  • Tetraethyl Lead / adverse effects
  • Tetraethyl Lead / history*
  • United States
  • Vehicle Emissions / adverse effects


  • Vehicle Emissions
  • Tetraethyl Lead

Personal name as subject

  • C C Patterson
  • R A Kehoe