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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.

Aguayo, J. (2016). Response to Amit Fachler's Letter regarding ‘On Bion's Notes on Memory and Desire’. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 97(2):509.

(2016). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 97(2):509

Response to Amit Fachler's Letter regarding ‘On Bion's Notes on Memory and Desire’ Related Papers

Joseph Aguayo

Dear Editor,

I am pleased to have an opportunity to respond to Amit Fachler's letter regarding a recent publication of mine (IJP 95, pp. 899-910) on Bion's Notes on memory and desire. It is always pleasing when readers take the time to both read and cross-check any author's citations of the primary sources. After reviewing my understanding of this particular clinical vignette in Bion's text (summarized on p. 899, footnote 2), I see why Fachler would maintain that the patient was jealous of a third, separate other in the form of another one of Bion's patients. I had depicted it as the patient being upset at Bion's favoritizing the patient himself in a previous session, essentially rendering it into a two-person situation. After reviewing the text, I do take Fachler's point - and his reading is closer to Bion's actual meaning than my own. This point is also reinforced by Bion also saying a bit further (Bion, 2013, p. 10) that this particular interpretation “is quite easily generalized, by saying it fits in with ordinary Oedipal theory”.

Well, as the saying goes, the Devil is in the details! Fachler's reading not only gets right Bion's meaning, but also reminds us of the tremendous admiration Bion maintained for Freud's Oedipus complex, one that he originally enshrined in the first version of the Grid (Bion, 2014, Complete Works, V: 93). Moreover, Fachler's point led me to re-listen to the actual recording of Bion's Los Angeles Seminars, and this led to a further consideration. After hearing Bion's Oedipal interpretation, the patient responded with a long drawl, in which he simply said, ‘Yes’. There was a mixture of murmuring and laughter on the audience's part at Bion's deft intonation, where he conveyed over and over again how contemptuous and dismissive the patient was of his interpretation. This led to a rather salient point: that Bion was more interested in listening to how his interpretations were being received rather than insisting that his was the correct understanding.

I thank both Amit Fachler and the IJP Editor for allowing me a response.


Bion W (2013). Los Angeles Seminars and Supervision. Aguayo J, Malin B, editors. London: Karnac.

Bion W (2014). Taming wild thoughts. Introduction by Parthenope Bion in The complete works of Wilfred Bion. London: Karnac.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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