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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A website about human progress

Recently I’ve been getting emails from the Cato Institute plugging their new website, HumanProgress.org.

Personally, I find the way that this website works to be annoying and confusing and just generally off-putting in a way I can’t quite pin down. I can find stuff, but every time I try to make progress through it, I am assaulted by what feels to me like mild-to-severe waves of user hostility. The screen, for instance, frequently covers itself in grey, in a manner which feels to me like it’s not working properly. But it could easily be that it is just me that is now semi-permanently annoyed, confused and hostile. I’d be slightly interested in whether anyone else shares my annoyed, confused and hostile reaction to the way this website works.

But I am really far more interested in the message that the website is trying to put across. It could be that there is just so much good news about human progress to be navigated through, such an abundance of data choice when it comes to learning about how well the human species is doing just now, that any website devoted to such matters is bound to overwhelm and confuse someone like me, whose brain is rooted in the twentieth century, when news like this was so much harder to come by and when websites were only being dreamed of. (The multiplication of genuinely useful websites seems to be a story that HumanProgress.org doesn’t seem to provide data about, but maybe they do and I just haven’t spotted it yet.)

This message, of relentless human betterment, will surely remind many readers of Steven Pinker’s recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I wrote about here (where there are links to other and earlier postings on the same subject).

8 comments to A website about human progress

  • Boy, that’s a mess. I can remember a time at the dawn of the internet when designers would do all sorts of crazy things simply because they could. It never worked and I thought we were beyond that stage. Not quite it would appear.

  • RRS


    As a former CATO Sponsor (small size) I had written the execs that they were (still are) spreading out too far; and, as it appears, too “thin.”

    But, all “facilities” tend to become institutions with their own hierarchies; subject to some “turf building.”

    Still, they are enormously valuable as things now stand in the U S.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    A rule of thumb I created sometime in the mid-nineties: “Never let your art department design your website.”

    It always ends up with sunrise-over-the-Grand-Canyon graphics and damn all information.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    The web site is not that bad. You can make lots of different graphs and, best of all, the page URL is updated so you can *share* the graph you made. For example, let’s say I was in an Internet argument and wanted to point out that fewer people are starving in Ethiopia:

    The grey thing I think happens when you click a button on just below the main logo on some pages. It changes to “make a selection” and pops up some choices but overlays the whole of the page in grey. Next time it happens, scroll to the top and click where it says “make a selection” to make this go away. I think it sometimes pops up when it shouldn’t. The design can be improved and there are bugs, but it strikes me as salvageable.

    And this page is full of SQOTD material: http://www.humanprogress.org/about

    This is a good site.

  • John

    I guess different people have different tolerance levels… and different connection speeds. For my part, it looks interesting but is hard to navigate and the going grey thing is intolerable. I wonder what it is doing when it says “fetching your data” ? Or rather what it is supposed to be doing… That message seems to be a permanent feature.

    I suspect AJAX is at the bottom of a lot of it…

    On the whole, looks like interesting information but I definitely share your annoyance.

  • John

    PS. Mr. Fisher, your link is a great example of the trouble. I followed it and after several minutes the “fetching” message finally went away, leaving me with a world map which is covered on the right side by a grey box of rankings. I rolled over Ethiopia on the map and the result read: N/A.

    I think “salvageable” may be about right. I hope they can salvage it.

  • Laird

    I agree that it is entirely too non-intuitive and user-unfriendly. Perhaps if you’re a computer geek it makes sense, but not to the uninitiated.

    I spent about 5 minutes there yesterday and gave up in frustration. There’s probably a lot of useful information there but I’ll never find it.

  • William T Reeves

    Only humans that are making great progress in progressing can master humanprogress. Of course I can….