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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.

Beres, D. (1977). Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society: Volume III: 1910-1911, 367 pp.; Volume IV: 1912-1918, 357 pp. Edited by Herman Nunberg and Ernst Federn. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1974, 1975.. Psychoanal Q., 46:148-157.

(1977). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 46:148-157

Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society: Volume III: 1910-1911, 367 pp.; Volume IV: 1912-1918, 357 pp. Edited by Herman Nunberg and Ernst Federn. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1974, 1975.

Review by:
David Beres

The history of psychoanalysis is the history of an idea. We are today close enough to the origins of psychoanalysis to be involved and biased in our judgments, yet far enough away to have some degree of objectivity about some basic questions. How far have we progressed from the early pioneers of psychoanalysis? Which questions have been answered and which remain unresolved? Which hypotheses and theories have been validated and which remain unproven?

Psychoanalysis is basically the study of unconscious mental function. Has the approach to this study changed over the years? Scientists, historians, and sociologists make observations, collect data. Their earliest formulations are speculations which they hope will lead to useful hypotheses and theories that can be validated by further observation and experimentation. This applies as well to psychoanalysts. Speculation is the beginning effort to codify and organize the accumulated data in order to make clinical application and further conceptualization possible.

The pioneers of psychoanalysis, through their speculations, gave vitality to their wealth of observations. But not all discerned the difference between speculation—recognized as such—and premature theorization—defended as such. Freud not only recognized this difference; he also emphasized it. To what extent are psychoanalysts today also prone to premature theorization? Which unanswered questions raised by the early analysts are today still being met, not with an admission of our limitations, but by futile logomachy that fills the pages of psychoanalytic journals? Freud commented on the tendency to be dogmatic without adequate evidence in his discussion of a presentation by Sadger.

[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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