Jeffrey LewisWorst Chart Ever

A friend sent along an article in Newsweek, Pakistan’s Nuclear Surge, by Andrew Bast that has what I think has to be the worst chart ever.

I mean that.


Does this make any sense to anyone?

I see the chart was “Compiled with Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists” but I don’t think we can blame Hans for this atrocity.

China at 40 nuclear weapons?

North Korea “could” weaponize its program?

This is supposed to be by 2021?

It looks like an Alexander Calder mobile gone terribly wrong.

What are the baseline numbers?

This makes my eyes hurt.



  1. Anon (History)

    And Russia will be trending upwards:

    Because of that US, China will join and India and Pakistan in also trending upwards.

    Where is Brazil on this chart? I heard it wants to be on the UNSC — you need nukes to get on that body!

  2. Andy (History)

    This chart is giving us insight into the latest “black” missile technology:

    1. North Korean missiles can do loop-de-loops. Besides being really freaking cool, it’s also probably dangerous.
    2. Russia, Britain, France and the USA finally have “mole” ICBM technology that allows missiles to burrow through the earth to reach targets thereby bypassing conventional missile defense systems.

  3. John Schilling (History)

    The chart “makes sense” in that I can easily extract and understand the information that is to be conveyed. It is a needlessly silly and complex way of delivering that information, hurtful to the eye, yes. Possibly the chart’s creators believed the cutesy graphics would make it more comprehensible to the typical Newsweek reader.

    It also has the disadvantage of conveying factually incorrect information. Since you ask, their baseline numbers would seem to be:

    Russia, present arsenal 8000 nuclear weapons
    United States, present arsenal 5000 nuclear weapons
    France, present arsenal 315 nuclear weapons
    Britain, present arsenal 225 nuclear weapons
    Pakistan, present arsenal 100 nuclear weapons
    India, present arsenal 90 nuclear weapons
    Israel, present arsenal 80 nuclear weapons
    China, present arsenal 40 nuclear weapons
    North Korea, non-weaponized nuclear explosives only

    Well, OK, *some* of those numbers aren’t completely wrong. Specifically, the chart’s creators appear to have accurately copied the press releases of that minority of the world’s nuclear powers who issue press releases on the size of their arsenals. Whee.

  4. joshua (History)

    Egad. Nuclear-grade chartjunk!

  5. jawad (History)

    I don’t think that it was Alexander Calder mobile gone terribly wrong, but rather his intention is what seems to have gone wrong. If you see what the article title is and then see these mistakes reader will understand what o am trying to say.

    This is the first time i heard about the 200 nukes for Pakistan

  6. thermopile (History)

    No, no, the North Koreans are just doing an energy management steering maneuver to keep their missiles in the test range. Just like THAAD does:

    Also, compare the Newsweek fiasco with what Edward Tufte claims as “probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn”:

  7. Mark Lincoln (History)

    Having watched the :Bomber Gap’, the ;Missile Gap’, Phyllis Schaffly’s Soviet ‘Strike From Space’, the late 1970s ‘zap gap’ and the Committee For the Present Danger’s endlessly receding ‘Window of Opportunity’, I am not amazed at another psycho-right prognostication of a catastrophic threat from nothing due to US weakness.

    Bear in mind that JFK rode the fraudulent ‘Missile Gap’ to victory in 1960 and Ronald Reagan spoke chillingly about the ‘Window of Opportunity’ on his way to the white house in 1980.

    You may see the fraud for what it is. The average American responds to emotion not reason.

  8. FSB (History)

    It would have been better if they made the size of the missiles correspond to the current stockpile numbers (operational and reserve) or made the height proportional to the stockpile numbers. It makes it look as though all stockpile numbers are about the same and some nations are building up way beyond Russia and the US!

    Misleading and confusing and wrong too.

  9. Gregory Matteson (History)

    “The average American responds to emotion, not reason.” However the dichotomy between emotion and reason, extending all the way back to Plato, appears to be a false dichotomy. My read on modern neurology textbooks is that neurological research supports that we reason by balancing and evaluating emotional responses. What we need is education and learned discipline to bring our responses in line with the external reality.
    Not the present state of this insight, but a published starting point,
    Note that the key criticism in the above article is that it attacks the Philosophical issue with a straw man argument.
    The chart in our discussion attempts to load and bias our response…like the old rhetorical complaint against the use of loaded words and images.

  10. sanman (History)

    I think the chartsmiths left out a zero from their estimate of China’s number of warheads.

    • Anon (History)

      And Israel has more like 200, and there is NO EVIDENCE that it is not building up. In fact if we replicate an ISIS-like analysis for Israel it will now have much more than 200 weapons, probably 2-stage TN devices.

  11. sanman (History)

    Fortunately, the Israelis at least have credible checks and balances in their govt decision-making apparatus, in the form of democratic setup, which is more than can be said for the police states surrounding it. Regimes beholden to generals, if not directly under them, clearly present the greater escalation risk. At least elected politicians have to worry about being re-elected.

    • FSB (History)

      Yes, Israel is a democratic Apartheid state. btw, Moral relativism w/r/t its border states is irrelevant.

      Before the knee-jerk compulsion to respond, note that the author is the former Education Minister of Israel. She has been awarded both the Israel Prize and the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

      Yes, There is Apartheid in Israel


    • Anon (History)

      Israel is a paranoid confessional state, more akin to Pakistan than anything else. And it, together with “Mini-me”, are the ones keeping the Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone from coming into existence.

      Yes, cue the music for rationales why only Israel should be allowed nukes in the ME. ….and GO!…

    • sanman (History)


      And Arabs are a collection of undemocratic post-apartheid states, because you can’t have an apartheid system anymore after you’ve successfully eliminated the other side of the apartheid inequation.

      Whereas South Africa managed to end its apartheid system by co-opting the dominant side to give in and merge with the weaker side, the Arab solution to ending its apartheid was for the dominant side to simply to expel the weaker side and send them all to Israel. So, while you admonish Israelis to mull over which approach to take, you may wish to reconsider holding up the Arabs as a good example.

      I’ve no idea where Cairo’s Coptics will now end up, as most of them don’t have EU passports. Maybe Shulamit Aloni can issue them some student visas.

    • FSB (History)

      I believe I mentioned the weakness of moral relativism.

      And no one is as bad as the Nazis, so Pol Pot is my buddy.

    • sanman (History)


      You mentioned moral relativism in connection with the Israelis, while avoiding the even weaker moral relativism of the undemocratic Arabs.

      As for Pol Pot, he was created and backed by a cold-blooded China, not unlike how the same China continues to prop up Pakistan and North Korea. You can see a thread of commonality in the behavior of all Chinese clients, because nobody cares to hold them to account. That’s why Pol Pot’s associates won’t face more than a wrist-slap, since their foreign patron still looms large, casting its long shadow.

    • FSB (History)

      I was trying to aviod spoon-feeding: big boys don’t judge how good they are by looking at the bad little boys around them.

      Yes, Israel is more democratic than Syria? So what?

      It also has a war criminal defense force and in fact has committed war crimes with US-donated weapons, in contravention of our Arms Export Control Act.

      Yes, the bad bad Palestinians also commit war crimes (with an order of magnitude less victims) — but we don’t give them $3b in military aid per year either.

      There is nothing good about Israel because it is better than Syria.

      Google “moral relativism” if they don’t have that term in Hindi.

    • sanman (History)

      The wider Arab world have avoided “war crimes” by cleansing themselves of unwanted Jews – which apparently isn’t a “war crime”, and is therefore a “lesser” crime by virtue of the moral relativism you claim to despise. I’m not sure how much the Arabs get in US military aid, but they seem to enjoy quite a bit of protection from the US, and that includes the Arab street, who aren’t anxious to face regional heavyweight Iran on their own. Maybe they’ll feel a little more confident once they can get their hands on some Pakistani nuclear weapons.

      You seem to have an interest in my ethnicity, but any coward can take potshots while hiding behind an alias. You use “we” and “our” but it’s not clear to me whose “we” or “our” you actually represent.

      What is pretty clear is that Israel’s actions aren’t due to a desire for moral relativism for its own sake, but rather because of the overwhelming threat of provocative escalatory violence by the other side. Certainly govts have a responsibility to their constituents to do what they can to protect them. Watching Netanyahu’s response the other day, he made a pretty good case:

      The Israelis seem to be genuinely weary of the conflict, but the Arabs won’t let them drop their guard.

    • FSB (History)
  12. Christen (History)
  13. Smith (History)

    Obviously, they need to read Tufte.

  14. Mike (History)

    Do they have an iphone app for nuclear proliferation statuses?

  15. cody (History)

    really bad graphic. the worst is it makes pakistan look like a winner.
    reminds me of reading the depressing conclusions of the document linked below.