Paint by Numbers

Long before the media and the internet were used by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann to inform public opinion, propagandists relied on old-fangled, Kafkaesque data-slinging to stack the cards in favor of their arguments. Surreptitious name-calling might still be fashionable for, say, Michele Bachmann, but back when subliminal messaging was still a pipe dream, the way folks of this ilk fashioned lopsided, dangerously deceptive information was by employing statistics. After all, most bullies have always relied on strength in numbers -- and numbers, they found, could be used to cow the uneducated.

"Statistically Speaking: The Graphic Experience of Data," on view Tuesday at the Wolfsonian-FIU (1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach), offers a compelling look at how early spin doctors cooked statistics in their favor as powerful tools of mass persuasion. In the museum's rare book and special collections library, you will find eye-catching statistical graphics and charts from the first half of the 20th Century, revealing the ambitions of forces behind everyone from Soviet propagandists to Portuguese imperialists to American New Dealers.

Each of these groups deployed graphic design to make information vivid and understandable and to inflate it with meaning beyond the numbers themselves. At the Wolf, you can get lost in the details of arcane messaging without the threat of Newt Gingrich's tweeting. Admission costs $7, or $5 for seniors, students, and children. Call 305-531-1001, or visit
Jan. 3-24, 2012

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