When The Washington Post's Brad Plumer posted "This is actually the scariest chart about Europe" on Thursday morning, there was a spontaneous reaction of mockery on Twitter that could, in the style of many social movements, mark the beginning of a full-scale rebellion against the maniacal competition to create the One Chart That Will Rule Them All. Plumer and his Wonkblog henchmen have been the key pushers of the "[Political, Economic or Cultural Phenomenon] ... In One Chart" trend (of which The Atlantic Wire has also been an enthusiastic participant). And, as you can see from the chart above, In One Chart has been taking over the Internet at a rapidly accelerating pace. Ezra Klein, MSNBC commentator and Wonkblog kingpin, says he imposed this In One Chart convention on the rest of us, maybe. "I believe I invented it, but with these things you can never be quite sure," Klein tells The Atlantic Wire. "The idea was that when dealing with tough subjects, explicitly limiting the time commitment requires from the reader can be helpful - it signals that while this might be about, say, health care costs, it won't be that heavy a lift."
Derek Thompson, one of the biggest proponents of In One Chart at our sister site TheAtlantic.com confirms Klein's account. Thompson told us, [recapitalized and punctuated from Gchat] "In fact, I recall a conversation with him at a bar, where he told me he really liked this new phrase, 'in one chart' … And I said something like, 'That's cool.'" That was in mid-2010, and Thompson had been working on a formulation along the lines of, "This Is What X Looks Like." The rest is blog history.
Or is it? Sifting through the Google archives, the earliest example we found was a Health Affairs article with the very modern headline "The Sad History of Health Care Cost Containment as Told in One Chart," (then aggregated by the Kaiser Family Foundation) in January 2002. That's a full year before Klein, then a college student, started his first blog. However, it makes sense to give Klein credit for spreading In One Chart. Today the breadth of in-one-chartism is breathtaking.
We can't blame Klein alone. There appears to be a correlation between the rise of searches for "In One Chart" and the rise of searches for "wonkish." The New York Times' Paul Krugman appears to be a prime driver of the latter term's rise. Nearly all of the high points in the chart below (we, like many, just broke the In One Chart rule by giving you more than one chart) are to Krugman posts like "Are Other Commodities Like Gold? (Quick and Wonkish)."