The Abstract Truth

The Limits of Search

Posted by rbpasker on October 11, 2007

I got an email today asking me about a comment I had made in a 1992 letter to the editor of the New York times Book Review:

Could it be that ideologies, like “compound characterizations,” leak as well?

The writer asked what I meant by “compound characterizations” and, 15 years later, I had no idea. I figured it had something to do with the original Book Review article, but I couldn’t get the NY Times search engine to cough up the original article (and God forbid they should hyperlink letters to the articles to which they refer).

Here are the terms I tried: “William F. Buckley”, “Joseph A. Cincotti”, and “In Search of Anti-Semitism.”

I came up with lots of articles by and about both of the authors as well as a number of references to Buckley’s book, but none were the article by Nathan Glazer with Cincotti’s sidebar. I even narrowed the search to Sept. 1992, the date referenced in my letter.

What finally did it was searching for “compound characterizations” and “leak”.

The referenced article had both Buckley’s and Cincotti’s name, but they had not been indexed by the Times’ search engine.

For a full-text search system, I don’t know why my name and title searches failed to find the article.

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