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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.

Bollas, C. (2015). Psychoanalysis in the Age of Bewilderment: On the Return of the Oppressed†. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 96(3):535-551.

(2015). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 96(3):535-551

Psychoanalysis in the Age of Bewilderment: On the Return of the Oppressed Language Translation

Christopher Bollas

I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects …. Sealed into that crushing object-hood, I turned beseechingly to others.

(Fanon, 2008a, p. 257)

Our own period is constitutionally one of desperation. What I say is that it is a period of disorientation, nothing more.

(Ortega y Gasset, 1958, p. 140)

It is perhaps fitting that this Congress takes place here in the ‘City upon the hill’. The Puritan elders of the early 17th century not only sought refuge from European religious persecutions, but believed that in founding a New Israel would ‘cast a light’ upon a Europe living in sin. They set impossibly high standards for themselves and their children and within the first generation were shocked by their own crimes. In Of Plymouth Plantation (1981) Governor Bradford (who arrived on the Mayflower) confronted the aftermath of a disturbing trial in which the plaintiff, Thomas Granger, was tried for serial bestiality. At his trial various animals were brought into the room and he had to identify those with which he had committed these ‘foul’ acts.

Granger was found guilty and executed in September 1642. “A very sad spectacle it was”, writes Bradford because “for first the mare and then the cow and the rest of the lesser cattle were killed before his face, according to the law, Leviticus xx.15; and then he himself was executed.” The animals were buried in a large pit.

[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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