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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.

Guttman, S.A. (1965). Some Aspects of Scientific Theory Construction and Psycho-Analysis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 46:129-136.

(1965). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 46:129-136

Some Aspects of Scientific Theory Construction and Psycho-Analysis

Samuel A. Guttman


I have presented a preliminary over-view of several aspects of scientific theory construction and psycho-analysis. Some notions from science, in particular physics, have been considered. Paradigms are generally accepted achievements that for a time provide model problems and model solutions to a community of practitioners of a science. Without a theoretical framework normal scientific investigation cannot take place. However, this is a double-edged sword because the paradigm can be confining and thus bind down the research activities, as well.

A parallel was drawn between text-book science teaching and professionalization of a psycho-analytic institute. Both tend to be 'paradigm-bound' and novelty has little or no place in such an approach. I suggested that being 'paradigm-bound' is an explanation for at least a large number of contributions to our current psycho-analytic literature. Our professional commitments must not blind us to other possibilities.

Some comments were made about atomism and its evolution. Present-day scientific theory construction in physics, as well as other sciences, is in essence, the science of 'atomism', a study of structure and relationships. The consummation of current atomic theory-construction according

to current structural tradition (in science) is to establish a general theory of order and disorder, of structural transformations and stability, with less emphasis on the units and more on the observed structure of relations. In physics this is taking place. For Freud, the ego, superego, and id, were the mental structures. However, for Hartmann structure is something different (see p. 134); the goal in current scientific theory construction is to have a theory with the broadest context and to discover the finer patterns of changing relations. We should devote our efforts to the basic concepts and fundamental principles (the structure of psycho-analytic theory) and the relationships.

The following anecdote about a student of physics seems appropriate in summing up this paper. Doctor Alexander Calandra (1964) of Washington University in St. Louis told about a physics student who was fed up with college instructors trying to teach him how to think instead of 'showing him the structure of the subject matter'. According to Dr Calandra's tale, the student had been given a zero for his answer to a question on a physics examination. The question was: 'Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer?' The student's answer: 'Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower the barometer to the street, and then bring it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building.' Dissatisfied with this solution but conceding that it was not strictly incorrect the physics teacher gave the student another chance to answer, this time in a way that would show some knowledge of physics. Having selected what he said was the best of many answers he had in his head, the student dashed off the following: 'Take the barometer to the top of the building and lean over the edge of the roof. Drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then, using the formula S = 1/2gt2, calculate the height of the building.' (S = distance fallen, g = gravitational acceleration of the barometer, and t = time). This apparently satisfied the letter, if not the spirit, of the examination question, and the student received almost full credit for the answer. He was then asked what other answers he had had in mind and responded, in part, with the following: 'You could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building, and by the use of a simple proportion, determine the height of the building.' Or, if not limited to physics, you could 'take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent's door. When he answers you say: "Here I have a very fine barometer. If you will tell me the height of this building, I will give you this barometer."'

The student in the story, Dr Calandra said, really knew the correct answer, which was to use equations relating barometric pressure and altitude to calculate the height from readings of the barometer taken at the bottom and the top of the building. That answer was not given, however, because the student wanted to take off what he regarded mostly as a sham, that is, the teaching of critical thinking, or the scientific method. Dr Calandra maintained that science teachers ought to teach science, but that teaching it from the standpoint that it is a special sort of thinking applying only to science is misleading. The ideas of science can be elucidated just as well merely by emphasizing the patterns in the subject matter and demonstrating them in practice.

There is nothing arcane about psycho-analysis.

[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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