Is Data Dark? Lessons from Borges’s “Funes the Memorius”


  • Alfred Essa McGraw Hill





In Funes the Memorius Jorge Luis Borges tells the tale of an Argentinian man who falls off a horse, becomes paralyzed, but with his misfortune acquires the strange gift of infinite memory. Funes remembers everything, which is to say he forgets nothing. l will use Borges' story as the backdrop for my response to Professor Selwyn.

My commentary is in three parts. First, I begin by stating some core areas of agreement, of which there are many. Second, I examine Selwyn’s use of the word “data”. I argue that it perpetuates a number of common misconceptions about statistics and the scientific method. We cannot understand the importance of learning analytics without first clarifying these misconceptions and moving beyond them. In the course of my argument I challenge Selwyn’s central thesis that “Education is inherently social, inherently contextual, inherently subjective; it means you can’t objectively rate it, measure it, indicate it.” Third, I turn the table on Selwyn. As a critic of learning analytics Selwyn suggests that data “disadvantages large numbers of people”. I argue that the root problem in education is the status quo, which Selwyn unwittingly represents, and not learning analytics. If we care about equity in education, as part of a broader interest in social justice, then learning analytics and the use of educational data can be a powerful instrument for empowering the disadvantaged.


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How to Cite

Essa, A. (2019). Is Data Dark? Lessons from Borges’s “Funes the Memorius”. Journal of Learning Analytics, 6(3), 35–42.



Invited Dialogue: "What's the Problem with Learning Analytics?" (Selwyn, 2019)