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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.

Mahon, E. (1999). Yesterday's Silence: An Irreverent Invocation of Beckett's Analysis with Bion. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(4):1381-1390.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4):1381-1390

Yesterday's Silence: An Irreverent Invocation of Beckett's Analysis with Bion

Eugene Mahon

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) and Wilfred Bion (1897-1979) crossed paths in 1933. It was a brief encounter, but who knows what impact it may have had on the history of literary and psychoanalytic ideas? Bion went on to become a psychoanalyst of great distinction. His seminal and controversial ideas had a worldwide impact on psychoanalytic thinking, particularly in the area of schizoid and psychotic states. Beckett emerged as one of the great literary voices of the twentieth century. A Nobel Laureate who wrote novels and poems as well as plays, his influence on modern drama was perhaps his greatest contribution to literary development in this century.

Beckett's line “I can't go on, I'll go on” is a cri de coeur that reflects not only modern man's disgust at the atrocities of our century (world wars, holocausts) but also his heroic insistence that despite the odds he must proceed to the end of his doomed journey. Beckett's artistic credo was similarly constructed of defiance in the face of despair: he believed that an artist had an obligation to express even when he believed that there was nothing to express.

Actually, the brief encounter mentioned earlier was not so brief. Bion was Beckett's analyst for almost two years. When Beckett met Bion in 1933, he was suffering from “severe anxiety symptoms, which he described in his opening session: a bursting, apparently arrhythmic heart, night sweats, shudders, panic, breathlessness, and when his condition was at its most severe, total paralysis” (Knowlson 1996, p. 169.)

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