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Tip: Understanding Rank

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

When you do a search, you can sort the results bibliographically alphabetical or by “rank”. What is Rank?

Rank refers to the search engine’s “best guess” as to the relevance of the result to the search you specified. The exact method of ranking used varies a bit depending on the search. In its most basic level, when you specify a single search term, rank looks at the density of the matches for the word in the document, and how close to the beginning of the document they appear as a measure of importance to the paper’s topic. The documents with the most matches and where the term is deemed to have the most importance, have the highest “relevance” and are ranked first (presented first).

When you specify more than one term to appear anywhere in the article, the method is similar, but the search engine looks at how many of those terms appear, and how close together they appear, how close to the beginning of the document, and can even take into account the relative rarity of the search terms and their density in the retrieved file, where infrequent terms count more heavily than common terms.

To see a simple example of this, search for the words (not the phrase, so no quotes):

unconscious communications

Look at the density of matches in each document on the first page of the hits. Then go to the last page of matched documents, and observe the density of matches within the documents.

A more complex search illustrates this nicely with a single page and only 15 matches:

counter*tr* w/25 “liv* out” w/25 enact*

There are a lot of word forms and variants of the words (due to the * wildcards) above that can match, but the proximity (w/25) clause limits the potential for matching. What’s interesting here though is how easily you can see the match density decrease as you view down the short list.

The end result of selecting order by rank is that the search engine’s best “guess” as to which articles are more relevant appear higher on the list than less relevant articles.

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Sterba, R. (1947). The 'Mental Crisis' of John Stuart Mill: A. W. Levi. Psa. Rev., XXXII, 1945, pp. 86–101.. Psychoanal Q., 16:271-272.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The 'Mental Crisis' of John Stuart Mill: A. W. Levi. Psa. Rev., XXXII, 1945, pp. 86–101.

(1947). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 16:271-272

The 'Mental Crisis' of John Stuart Mill: A. W. Levi. Psa. Rev., XXXII, 1945, pp. 86–101.

Richard Sterba

John Stuart Mill (1773–1836), the English philosopher and economist, experienced a severe depression when twenty years old. He had been brought up by a very stern father, who professed the greatest contempt for passionate emotions of all sorts and for everything which had been said or written in exaltation of them. Mill's emotions were starved, his artistic instincts and æsthetic cravings thwarted, his feelings and sentiments ignored or thrust aside through his father's education. His mother, too, did not give the children any affection, warmth or love. Mill's attitude towards his father was ambivalent. Admiration and dislike, respect and the absence of warm affection, were curiously intermingled. In the first version of his autobiography he says, 'I thus grew up in the absence of love and in the presence of fear', a statement which he eliminated in the final edition of this autobiography.

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Levi finds the depression of Mill caused by 'those repressed death wishes against his father, the vague and unarticulated guilt feeling which he had in consequence, and the latent, though still present dread that never now should he be free of his father's domination'. As a proof of this hypothesis Levi quotes Mill's own description of the incident which brought the first relief from the depression, the 'small ray of light' which broke in upon his gloom. It was the accidental reading of a passage in the Memoires of Marmontel, an insignificant French author. Marmontel describes therein his reaction to his father's death, expressing it in these words: 'Mother, brothers, sisters, we experience … the greatest of afflictions; let it not overcome us. Children, you lose a father, and you find one; I am he, I will be a father to you; I adopt all his duties; you are no longer orphans.' Upon reading this passage, Mill stated: 'A vivid conception of the scene and its feelings came over me, and I was moved to tears. From this moment my burthen grew lighter'. Levi states that this incident had a cathartic effect upon Mill: through identification with Marmontel he experienced his own father's death, and in this way discharged his hostile feelings towards the father which had caused his depression.

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Article Citation

Sterba, R. (1947). The 'Mental Crisis' of John Stuart Mill. Psychoanal. Q., 16:271-272

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