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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.

Esman, A.H. (1995). On “Recovered Memories”. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 43:295-296.

(1995). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 43:295-296

On “Recovered Memories”

Aaron H. Esman, M.D.

December 8, 1994

The papers in JAPA 42/4 on childhood abuse and its developmental and pathogenic implications are an admirable psychoanalytic contribution to the continuing discussion of this complex and controversial issue. Of particular interest is Brenneis's imaginative discussion of the problems inherent in distinguishing “real” from “false” recovered memories of sexual abuse—i.e., the question of iatrogenic suggestion vs. “empathic” acceptance. Empirical study in this area is obviously difficult, and ardent partisans of credence on the one hand and dubiety on the other will continue to make their claims in the absence of clear and valid evidence.

One area in which claims for the etiological salience of childhood sexual abuse have been voiced is that of the eating disorders in general and bulimia in particular. Fortunately, careful epidemiological studies have been performed in this field, both here and abroad, and from these studies, as I pointed out in a recent Editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry(Esman, 1994), the evidence is clear. These investigations converge on the conclusion that, in the case of bulimia at least, the data do not support the notion that such abuse has specific causative effect, except in the context of general family pathology and other forms of abuse, both psychological and physical. Thus, the widespread practice of encouraging, even coercing, the “recovery” of “memories” of sexual abuse (including the use of hypnosis) is clearly unwarranted and may in fact be dangerous both to the patient and to family members.

It must be said that such cases as that of the pathetic Paul Ingram (Wright, 1994) induce a high level of doubt about the validity of many instances of “recovered memories.” It appears that in most cases memories of actual abuse have not been repressed and are readily accessible to conscious recall. This is neither to support the blunderbuss polemics of Frederick Crews (1994) against the very concept of repression, nor to minimize the social and clinical importance of child abuse, so well and movingly documented by Brandt Steele.

[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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