Fair Witness
Posted: 02 November 2007 06:41 PM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  505
Joined  2007-10-20

Just now in conversation “witness” was used as a term of art to describe a procedure whereby someone is going to oversee the testing of a rather large system having to do with computers, military defense, and a multitude of things which I’m better off not knowing about. The use reminded me of Heinlein’s “fair witness” which Doctor T’s mention of some months back spurred me to re-read (or read for the first time) eight books so far, including Stranger in a Strange Land, where the term was introduced. In the instance I just heard, the idea was that it is absolutely required that the witness have a hands-off approach: no interaction, much like Heinlein’s fair witness.

The point is that Heinlein worked in and around military defense and so I wonder if the modern use is based on his or if his use was based on a term of art previously in existence. Is it widespread now?

[ Edited: 02 November 2007 11:14 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
Posted: 03 November 2007 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  5109
Joined  2007-01-03

AFAIK, fair witness was not a term of art before Heinlein and it doesn’t seem to be all that common now. There are only some 18,000 ghits for the phrase and when you subtract out the Heinlein references and the uses where fair is simply a common adjective and not part of a lexical unit it doesn’t leave much.

I did find this one though, that makes me think it may have some currency as an actual legal term, at least in some circles of the EU.

Posted: 03 November 2007 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Total Posts:  2983
Joined  2007-01-31

Like Dave, I know of no prior existence of “fair witness” as a special phrase.  The Samuel Renshaw from whom at least one of the Fair Witnesses in SiaSL is supposed to have received training was a real person, but AFAIK the Fair Witnesses were Heinlein’s own extrapolation of Renshaw’s ideas.

(BTW, I’ve read several volumes of sf analysis and criticism that were either specifically about Heinlein and his works or included substantial treament of them among other topics.  To the best of my generally reliable recollection, none of them mentions any prior use of the phrase.)

[ Edited: 03 November 2007 11:18 AM by Dr. Techie ]
Posted: 05 November 2007 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Total Posts:  244
Joined  2007-02-13

For whatever it is worth, I assumed from the subject line that Heinlein was the topic.  I don’t associate “fair witness” any other way.  It probably makes no difference, but I read a lot of Heinlein from when I was about twelve well into my twenties.  Then I woke up one day and found, to my surprise, him utterly unreadable.  That was going to twenty years ago.  But I still associate “fair witness” this way.