Default reasoning

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Yesterday's Tank McNamara:

For further discussion, see e.g. R. Reiter, "A Logic for Default Reasoning", Artificial Intelligence 1980; or Robert Sugden, "Salience, inductive reasoning and the emergence of conventions", Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 2011.


  1. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 7:59 am

    There's also the fact that "The Open" is the official name of the event that we call the "British Open" to distinguish it from the other open golf tournaments that have been created since 1860.

  2. Sandy Nicholson said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 9:06 am

    It’s rather like the Forth Bridge (opened in 1890), which despite that being its proper name, is often referred to as the Forth Rail Bridge to distinguish it from the relatively youthful (1964) Forth Road Bridge. As that is soon to be joined by yet another road bridge across the Firth of Forth – dubbed the Queensferry Crossing – perhaps it in turn will come to be known popularly as the Old Forth Road Bridge.

  3. Lazar said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 10:13 am

    For another sporting example, England's national football association is just called the Football Association – literally the only one in the world that doesn't have a national qualifier in its name. There's also the case of the Times: some people object to "the London Times", insisting instead on "the Times of London".

  4. md 20/400 said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 10:56 am

    The Country Club, located in Brookline (Mass.), is another like this.

  5. Rodger C said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 11:39 am

    Then there's the Journal of the Chemical Society, British of course.

  6. Theophylact said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 11:52 am

    And the Automobile Association.

  7. Sandy Nicholson said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

    If we’re going down the road of looking at institutions, it’s interesting (and topical, given the forthcoming independence referendum!) to compare names of comparable English (sometimes English/Welsh) and Scottish institutions. A few that spring to mind:

    BBC Symphony Orchestra / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
    Environment Agency / Scottish Environment Protection Agency
    National Archives / National Records of Scotland
    National Gallery / Scottish National Gallery
    National Portrait Gallery / Scottish National Portrait Gallery
    National Theatre / National Theatre of Scotland
    National Trust / National Trust for Scotland
    Royal Academy / Royal Scottish Academy

  8. Birdseed said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    It doesn't just have to be geography either. This sort of thing can expose soical power relations in other ways, too – for instance, how almost all team sports are by default assumed to be male team sports, with women's sports qualified. National Basketball Association vs. Women's National Basketball Association, etc.

  9. Sid Smith said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

    There's no national designation on British postage stamps** and US web addresses.

    ** But they do display the monarch's head.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 3:36 pm

    Priority in time does not always correlate perfectly with current "social power relations." The lack of modifiers in the examples given above does not, for example, tell you much about the current relative status/prominence in the field of e.g. "the Chemical Society" and the "American Chemical Society." To take a different example, one would infer correctly from the difference in name between "Ohio University" and "Ohio State University" that the former is the older, but as it happens in that particular pair the later-founded is the one with higher current status/prominence.

  11. mollymooly said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

    @Sid Smith: "There's no national designation on … US web addresses."

    .gov , .edu , and .mil are US-specific.

    .com , .net , and .org are not US-specific.

    There is a .us TLD

  12. cM said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 6:02 pm


    .edu is open to non-US educational institutions as well:

  13. Sid Smith said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 6:42 pm

    @ mollymooly

    Could you explain further? Is it not true that everywhere outside the US uses a national designator (uk, au, fr), whereas US organisations can choose to use .us, but don't have to?

    The New York Review of Books, for instance, is at whereas the LRB is

  14. Sandy Nicholson said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 3:30 am

    @Sid Smith: Every country, including the US, has a country top level domain (TLD). Most US organisations choose not to use .us, meaning that, apart from those with .arpa, .gov, .mil and (usually) .edu domains, it isn’t always clear whether they are framing themselves as American rather than multinational or international bodies (or whether they had even given it any thought).

    Exactly the same choice is open to organisations in other countries, and various approaches are taken. It’s common for a business in the UK to register both and .com domains, with one redirecting to the other. Very often .com is the default choice in the UK too (it’s shorter to type, well known, and won’t date if the business expands into other countries).

    And of course there are lots of country TLDs (.ly, .to etc.) that are used by people and organisations that have nothing to do with the countries in question.

  15. Milan said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 7:10 am

    @Birdseed: Actually, in most team sports, women can participate in the "male" teams. At least there are no rules preventing them from doing so — it's just that, because of gender roles there are fewer women who pursue a professional sports career so that the best women statistically aren't as good as the men. In low amateur leagues it is in fact not uncommon to see female players in the "male" teams, especially among the juniors.

  16. Ed Rorie said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 8:14 am

    In DC, the most popular and well known traffic circle is Dupont Circle (popular because of the park within the circle). Those of us who live nearby call it "The Circle." Even if you said it across town, though, most people would know what you meant.

  17. BZ said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 9:19 am

    There are plenty of organizations, companies, government sections, etc that call themselves "National" or "Federal" so-and-so without specifying a country. While this is more often done in the US, other countries do it as well. There are often collisions. Wikipedia shows seven different "National Football Leagues" that are currently active in various countries, playing three different types of Football even.

  18. Robert Coren said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 9:51 am

    @Sandy Nicholson:

    And if they open one more bridge, will it be known as the Fourth Forth Bridge?

  19. Sandy Nicholson said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 10:02 am

    @Robert Coren: No, because technically the Forth Bridge wasn’t the first Forth bridge (though it was the first across the Firth of Forth), and the Forth Road Bridge wasn’t the first Forth road bridge either, even across the Firth of Forth (that was the Kincardine Bridge, somewhat further up the Firth).

  20. David J. Littleboy said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 10:24 am

    Ah, one along these lines for Prof. Mair would be a place a friend used to work: 国立国語研究所. The nationally established national language research lab. (This is Japanese, not Chinese, though.)

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 10:57 am

    New York city has over a dozen neighborhoods with names of the form "X Village," but "the Village" is generally taken to unambiguously mean Greenwich Village. Chronological priority and current fame/salience may point the same direction in this example, so it doesn't help tease out which is really the driving factor.

  22. Sandy Nicholson said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    @J.W. Brewer: And you have to wonder how New York (or New Amsterdam) ended up with, and retained, that ‘New’ prefix (despite the city’s worldwide salience), while places like Boston or a number of Invernesses, for instance, didn’t bother to disambiguate. Here in Scotland, ‘Perth’ by default refers to the Scottish city, but even just over the border in England people will often assume you’re talking about its now somewhat larger namesake in Australia.

  23. Eric P Smith said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 11:30 am

    @Sandy Nicholson:

    BBC Symphony Orchestra / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
    Environment Agency / Scottish Environment Protection Agency
    National Archives / National Records of Scotland
    National Gallery / Scottish National Gallery
    National Portrait Gallery / Scottish National Portrait Gallery
    National Theatre / National Theatre of Scotland
    National Trust / National Trust for Scotland
    Royal Academy / Royal Scottish Academy

    You will be aware, but American readers may not be, that language like that gives a strong perception in Scotland that, in the eyes of English people, the default position in Britain is to be English. That is a source of great irritation to Scots and, for many, adds to the desire for independence.

  24. Rodger C said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 11:45 am

    @Robert Coren: I'm inevitably reminded of the no doubt urban-legendary translator of Walter Scott who rendered the Firth of Forth as le Cinquième du Quatrième.

  25. Eric P Smith said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 11:52 am

    @Rodger C: many Edinburgh schoolchildren are confused by the Forth Bridge and George IV Bridge.

  26. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 11:53 am

    Eric P. Smith – ah, but to go back to the example we started with, the "Open" is always referred to (if modified) as "the British Open," not the "English Open," because golf is one of the areas in which Scotland is disproportionately important, at least historically, within the U.K. But is it really the case that, e.g., the National Portrait Gallery is an "English" (rather than "British" or indeed "National") institution in the sense that portraits of Scottish/Welsh/etc. individuals (or by Scottish/Welsh/etc. artists) are not included in its collection?

  27. Eric P Smith said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: I really don't know, because the visual arts are not my thing. Certainly there are some Scottish portraits in the National Portrait Gallery. But I would guess that Scottish portraits, in general, are more likely to be found in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery than in the National Portrait Gallery, thus adding to the perception that the National Portrait Gallery is basically English.
    Other readers may be able to correct me on that.

  28. Sandy Nicholson said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: You may be right about the National Portrait Gallery (and it’s possible I may have misrepresented others on my list), but it isn’t clear which nation is referred to (which is part of the point, of course). The gallery, it seems, has ‘regional partners’ in a couple of English locations outside London and at one location in Wales – while it has no offices in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Still, crucially, the (unqualified) National Portrait Gallery is based in London, whereas the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is in Edinburgh.

    In the UK, an unqualified ‘national’ never means Scottish (as far as I’m aware). It can mean English, or it can mean British (in the sense that that adjective refers to the whole of the UK rather than just Great Britain). It can even refer to certain other subdivisions of the UK, as long as they include England! For instance, there is (or was) a National Curriculum used in state schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – but not in Scotland, which has its own education system.

  29. ===Dan said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

    "The Open" is its name, and that suffices. Interestingly, Google's listing for the official web site says "The official site of the British Open with news and information on the tournament and players, including video and photo highlights, spectator information and …" but "British Open" does not appear anywhere on the site's home page, as far as I can tell.

  30. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 1:47 pm

    Since approx 84% of the population of the UK lives in England (which may or may not correlate perfectly with self-identifying as "English" or being so identified by others) and only a bit over 8% in Scotland (ditto for how that correlates with identification as "Scottish"), anything that is "national" for the U.K. en masse is highly likely to be overwhelmingly English. It does seem unfortunate that "nation(al)" can be used both at the level of generality of England/Scotland/etc and the higher level of generality of the U.K. as a whole, especially when that is combined with the demographic dominance of the nation-as-a-whole with one specific component nation.

    Is counterexample to the claim that unqualified "national" never means Scottish?

  31. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 2:54 pm lists multiple places sometimes referred to w/o qualification or further specification as simply "The City" (or the equivalent in another language). Presumably context generally suffices to disambiguate which is meant.

  32. Bloix said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 5:44 pm

    "Fencers Club" (no definite article, no apostrophe) in New York is the oldest fencing club in the Western Hemisphere.

  33. robert said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 2:21 am

    The UK has many royal societies, but only one plain Royal Society.

    Many countries have had a royal navy, but 'the Royal Navy', unmodified by country, is always the UK's, when speaking English.

    What happens when national pride clashes with historical priority? For instance, did imperial Germany talk about 'the imperial navy' and 'the British navy', patriotically making their own navy the default, or about 'the imperial German navy' and 'the royal navy', respecting the Royal Navy's historical priority?.

  34. Rubrick said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 3:11 am

    Another interesting post here on Log.

  35. Breffni said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 6:06 am

    In Ireland "the Queen" is widely used and understood to refer to the Queen of England. This is a source of irritation to some, who see it not as a routine and unsurprising feat of inference (there aren't too many other queens who impinge on our consciousness or headlines) but as a craven throwback to pre-independence times ("We're no longer subject to a monarch, so which queen are you talking about?"). They insist it should be spelled out: "the Queen of England", "the English Queen", or for bonus points, "Elizabeth Windsor".

  36. Sandy Nicholson said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 6:45 am

    @Breffni: I’ve only ever heard Elizabeth (or Betty) Windsor referred to as ‘the Queen of England’ by people outside the UK. It certainly isn’t a term that I’m aware of having heard in the UK (perhaps because ‘the queen’ suffices). In any case, she is technically queen of the United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), as well as of various Commonwealth countries.

    In 1603, with the union of the English and Scottish crowns, James VI of Scotland became (in addition) James I of England; so, logically, you might expect that the present queen would be referred to as Elizabeth II of England (there having been a Queen Elizabeth in England previously) and (in addition) Elizabeth I of Scotland – or that she would simply be known as Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom (since the state has become more complicated since then). Yet (for reasons unknown to me) she is popularly referred to as Queen Elizabeth II (despite vociferous objections to the nomenclature in some quarters; there was even at one time a campaign of defacing postboxes bearing the legend E II R).

  37. Lars said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

    @Sandy – that came up on a recent rerun of QI, according to which a most solomonic Act of Parliament was passed before the most recent crowning of a British monarch to the effect that thenceforth the same numbering would be used throughout the United Kingdom, namely one higher than the highest previously used in any of the constituent realms.

    Which means that any future King James would be VII, never mind that the previous one was known as I in England.

  38. Ethan said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

    @Lars: The previous one was known as James II in England. That's if you disregard the Jacobites. Then again, if you don't disregard the Jacobites any next King James under the scheme you cite would become James VIII.

  39. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

    On reflection, the "National" in "National Hockey League" struck me as particularly odd since the league has in practice been international (i.e., had both U.S.-based and Canada-based teams) since approximately forever. But it turns out that the original "nation" referred to at the league's founding in 1917 was unambiguously Canada, since the first U.S.-based team didn't join until 1924. Even so I suppose one might criticize "national" as having started as an arrogant overstatement in the Canadian context since it was not until the 1970's that the NHL had a team located west of Ontario.

  40. Adam Roberts said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 5:27 pm

    I recently did an author event in HMP Grendon. I tweeted about it, before and after, without thinking too much about the acronym — to me it's as transparent as 'HMS' before a ship. A couple of non-UK people who follow me expressed mild puzzlement; of course, Google answers the query as to what the letters stand for in moments. But it got me thinking how odd it is that this one country identifies all its prisons as the personal property of its head of state. I'd be surprised if other countries do the same; but maybe some do.

  41. David P said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 7:21 pm

    @Eric P Smith
    The first time I saw a reference to Wald's IV estimator, I though it was Wald's fourth estimator.

  42. Rodger C said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 11:55 am

    @David P: Reminds me of the way older black people used to complain (in jest?) that their children would ask, "Who was Malcolm the Tenth?"

  43. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

    A similar issue is presented by one account of how the movie "The Madness of King George" got its title switched to that from the prior "The Madness of George III," although that popular version is alas debunked as an urban myth here:

  44. Brett Dunbar said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

    Actually it would be James VIII; as the previous king James was James II & VII.

  45. RP said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 3:29 am

    @Adam Roberts,
    I suppose the government (or at least the executive branch) is Her Majesty's Government, and the parliamentary opposition to her government is Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition, so when all that is identified as yours then it's not a big step to have the prisons as well…

    Loosely connected: having been born in the 70s and never known anything other than QCs, it's really odd to think that on the Queen's death they will all revert to being KCs, a title that is almost entirely unfamiliar.

  46. Graeme said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 3:23 am

    There's only one 'football', but there's many American, Australian Rules, Gaelic, Rugby etc football codes and leagues.

  47. Mark Dunan said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 10:36 am

    The official name of the Chicago Cubs baseball club is "The Chicago National League Ball Club" because, back in 1876, when you were talking about a ball sport that had a professional league, you were talking about baseball.

    (And the nickname is not included because back then nicknames were very much unofficial.)

    I remember hearing references to the "Atlanta National League Baseball Club" (another team whose history goes back to 1876) when the announcers would sign off after a Braves game, and wondered if the team had to change "ball" to "baseball" when the team moved from Boston because in the interim several other sports teams, with other kinds of "balls", had taken up residence in Atlanta.

  48. Bloix said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

    "There's only one 'football',"

    The game you seem to believe is called "football" is formally known as "association football," as in " Fédération Internationale de Football Association" (FIFA) – in English, International Federation of Association Football.

    To distinguish association football from other footballs (.e.g, rugby football), it was known very early on in England by the contraction/Oxford University slang name "soccer" ("assoc" for association loses its first unaccented syllable and "er" – pronounced to an American ear as "uh" – added). Rugby football – rugger – got an analogous nickname.

    "Soccer" was quite common in England for many decades, see e.g. the 1969 autobiography of English great Ray Wilson, "My Life in Soccer" – but somehow there's a sentiment nowadays that "soccer" is a foreign imposition, that association football is the only real football, and that sports should get out of the way and use some other name.

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