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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.

Kirshner, L.A. (1999). Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan: Louis Althusser. Edited by Olivier Corpet and Fran├žois Matheron. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 194 pp., $29.50.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(4):1423-1428.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(4):1423-1428

Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan: Louis Althusser. Edited by Olivier Corpet and François Matheron. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, 194 pp., $29.50.

Review by:
Lewis A. Kirshner

Louis Althusser was a prominent Marxist intellectual who taught at the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Born in 1918, he was himself a “normalien,” whose studies in philosophy were interrupted by the Second World War. During the invasion of France he was captured by the German army, and he spent four and a half years as a prisoner. After repatriation, Althusser resumed his preparation for the agrégé in philosophy, and began an active career as a writer and teacher closely identified with the French communist party. He was a significant figure in the postwar efflorescence that saw such remarkable thinkers as Barthes, Foucault, Lacan, Lévi-Strauss, Merleau-Ponty, and Piaget creating the new paradigm of structuralism, which was to have profound effects on many disciplines. Thanks in part to Althusser, psychoanalysis was able to play an important part in these developments and, through the influence of Jacques Lacan, to shape a generation of intellectuals.

At the same time, Althusser was a profoundly troubled man who apparently suffered from a manic-depressive illness. Hospitalized soon after the war, he undertook a series of biological treatments, including electroshock therapy, with a number of prominent psychiatrists, including Pierre Mâle. Around 1964, he entered psychoanalysis with Réné Diatkine, a distinguished member of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society (SPP) and a severe critic of Lacan. He was still in treatment and negotiating yet another hospitalization in 1980 when, in a fit of manic rage, he strangled his wife Hélène, leading to a celebrated hearing at which he was deemed not criminally responsible.

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