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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.

Malater, E. (2007). Caught in the Web: Patient, Therapist, E-mail, and the Internet. Psychoanal. Rev., 94(1):151-168.

(2007). Psychoanalytic Review, 94(1):151-168

Caught in the Web: Patient, Therapist, E-mail, and the Internet

Review by:
Evan Malater, LCSW

In the past psychoanalysis would not have been what it was (any more than so many other things) if E-mail, for example, had existed. And in the future it will no longer be what Freud and so many psychotherapists have anticipated now that E-mail, for example, has become possible.

—Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever

In 1876, for the first time, a disembodied voice on a telephone transcended time and space in a way that was once only possible in dreams. Twenty-five years later, the disembodied voice of the therapist, able to transcend time and space through transference, spoke to a patient on a couch of dreams and bodies. Following Derrida's (1995) reasoning, we can say that psychoanalysis was what it was because the telephone existed. Now we are challenged to conceive what psychoanalysis is and what it will become in the world of the Internet.

We might respond by seeking the traces of this technology in patients' lives and by hearing its operations and imprints in patients' dreams. But what does it mean to say that psychoanalysis will no longer be what so many psychotherapists have anticipated?

Derrida (1995) writes, “If the upheavals in progress affected the very structures of the psychic apparatus … it would be a question no longer of simple continuous progress in representation, in the representative value of the model, but rather of an entirely different logic” (p. 15). When new technology changes the experienced boundaries between public and private, when it affects the way our dreams are felt, remembered, and told, something significant has happened.


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