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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.

Kubie, L.S. (1947). The Fallacious Use of Quantitative Concepts in Dynamic Psychology. Psychoanal Q., 16:507-518.

(1947). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 16:507-518

The Fallacious Use of Quantitative Concepts in Dynamic Psychology

Lawrence S. Kubie, M.D.

A system of psychological concepts merits being called 'dynamic' when it comprehends conscious and unconscious motivations, and when it can demonstrate how the interaction between various psychological states can play an active rôle in determining the course of human life. In any effort to formulate a system of dynamic psychology it is difficult to be sure when our words describe and when they explain. Indeed the boundary lines between description and explanation are never sharp in science. Many constant sequences are found to have cause-and-effect relationships, and many apparent cause-and-effect relationships turn out to be mere coincidental sequences. In the effort to deal with this difficulty, there is a tendency in psychology to fall back largely on quantitative concepts, that is, on the explicit or implicit assumption that a change in dimension or volume or size or strength in one or another component of the total psychological constellation is the effective variable which causes all other changes. There are some dangers in this type of formulation.

Let me begin with a quotation from page 313 of Freud's Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (4). This was written before 1920 when the introduction of the structural viewpoint brought far-reaching changes into psychoanalytic theory. Nevertheless the quantitative assumptions of the earlier theories were carried over without re-examination into the structural era of psychoanalytic theory.

You will doubtless have noticed that in these last remarks I have introduced a new factor into the concatenation of the ætiological chain—namely, the quantity, the magnitude of the energies concerned; we must always take this factor into account as well.

[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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