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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.

Glenn, M.L. (1969). Towards an “Uncertainty Principle” for Psychology. Psychoanal. Rev., 56B(2):215-224.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Review, 56B(2):215-224

Towards an “Uncertainty Principle” for Psychology

Michael L. Glenn, M.D.

Psychic determinism has been a basic assumption of psychoanalytic theory since the turn of the century, when Freud elaborated it. Rooted in the causal outlook of the nineteenth century, it has remained unmodified in psychiatry, although other sciences have moved to temper strict and thoroughgoing determinism with a notion of probability.

Rado,12 writing 45 years ago about psychic determinism, said:

Psychoanalysis has but recently begun to exploit the unmeasurable advantages that the deterministic viewpoint affords it, and it will have to work hard to exhaust the possibilities of that principle…. I should not be surprised were psychoanalysis to succeed in attaining a complete understanding of our mental life with its deterministic manner of viewing things.

Now, however, one must assess the boundless application of this historic principle and see if it can remain productively unaltered. This paper will review the notion of psychic determinism and its relation to current scientific thought. It will be argued that an “uncertainty principle” is a needed addition to dynamic psychological theory.

The Emergence of Determinism

The advent of the “scientific age” in the seventeenth century coincided with a vigorous interest in observing and describing the external world: astronomers charted the solar system; physiologists described the circulation of the blood; physicists formulated laws of motion; chemists examined the behavior of gases; biologists classified animate and inanimate kingdoms.

Empiricism led to attempted explanation. Growing masses of data needed organization: things had to make sense.

[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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