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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.

Hale, N. (1996). Madness In America. Cultural And Medical Perceptions Of Mental Illness Before 1914. By Lynn Gamwell and Nancy Tomes. Syracuse, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995, 182 pp., $39.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 44:1001-1002.

(1996). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 44:1001-1002

Madness In America. Cultural And Medical Perceptions Of Mental Illness Before 1914. By Lynn Gamwell and Nancy Tomes. Syracuse, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995, 182 pp., $39.95.

Review by:
Nathan Hale

This richly illustrated survey of American medical and cultural views of mental illness spans the years from the 17th century to 1914 and the early impact of the new psychiatry of Freud and Adolf Meyer. The illustrations, from a remarkable variety of sources, many of them published together for the first time, provide much of the excitement and fascination of this elegantly produced volume, which inaugurates a new Cornell series in the history of psychiatry. There are photographs of patient art from the 18th and 19th centuries, of asylum dances, of nurses doing improving exercises at the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, of Benjamin West's monumental painting, Christ Healing the Sick, of hypnotists and their subjects as well as advertisements for headache pills and phrenological apparatus. The very competent text pays considerable attention to the concerns of women, to racial and sexual issues, and to patients' perceptions of their treatment. Sometimes present-day indignation over past injustices, sexual or racial, overtakes the narrative. Then, there is an obscure argument about the “nonverbal” characteristics of modern art and the suggestion that attention to semiotics has swept the psychoanalytic field. But these are minor flaws in an otherwise compact and well-argued text. Freud's innovations in giving “a precise meaning to psychological cause and effect” are sympathetically placed in the context of the problems of somatic psychiatry toward the close of the 19th century.

[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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