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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.

Žižek, S. (1991). Formal Democracy and its Discontents. Am. Imago, 48(2):181-198.

(1991). American Imago, 48(2):181-198

Formal Democracy and its Discontents

Slavoj Žižek

Violations of The Fantasy-Space

“The Stuff of Madness,” a short story by Patricia High-smith, reads like a variation on the motif of “pet cemetery.” Christopher Waggoner's wife Penelope is pathologically attached to her pets: in the garden behind the house, all her deceased cats and dogs are exhibited, stuffed. When the press learns about this peculiarity, journalists want to visit her, write an article on her and, of course, take photos of the garden. Christopher resists this intrusion into the privacy of his home to the utmost, but when he is finally forced to give way to his wife's resolution, he devises a cruel vengeance: he secretly manufactures an exact wax-replica of Louise, his former great love, and then puts the statue on a stone-bench in the center of the garden. When, next morning, Penelope takes the journalists on a tour of the garden and sees the statue of Louise, she collapses with a heart-attack (she knew very well that Chris had never loved her and that Louise was his only true love). After she has been taken to hospital, Chris remains alone in the house; the following morning, he is found dead in the garden, stiff like a doll in the lap of his Louise. The fantasy around which this story turns is of course Penelope's, not Chris's: the garden-space, the fantasy-universe of the stuffed pets, is a construction by means of which Penelope masks the ultimate failure of her marriage. The inconsiderate cruelty of Christopher's act consists of including in this fantasy-space the very object which must be excluded, i.e. the object whose presence disintegrates the fantasy: the figure of the Other Woman who embodies the miscarriage of the sexual relationship between Chris and Penelope.

[This is a summary or excerpt from the full text of the book or article. The full text of the document is available to subscribers.]

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