James (Gerry) Gerrand, co-founder of the Australian Skeptics, died on October 12, aged 93.
Gerrand played a fundamental role in the setting-up and on-going activities of Australia Skeptics. The initial meetings to establish the Skeptics were held in 1980 at his home in Hawthorn, Melbourne, with lawyer Mark Plummer, who became the group’s founding president. (Plummer died last year.)
Gerrand had previously spent six years working for the United Nations agency ICAO in Montreal. Gerrand and Plummer had known each other as colleagues in the early 1970s when Plummer was the industrial officer for the Professional Officers Association (the union representing scientists, engineers and other professionals in the Commonwealth Public Service) and Gerrand was honorary editor-in-chief of the same group’s monthly journal. In his day job, Gerrand was the superintending airways engineer for the Victorian & Tasmanian Region in the Department of Civil Aviation.
His son, Dr Peter Gerrand, reports that “Having decided to create the Australian Skeptics, inspired by what they had learned of the US organisation [CSICOP], James and Mark approached Phillip Adams, who readily and enthusiastically supported the new organisation, and created national publicity for it, so much so that James and Mark were always ready to include Phillip as the third co-founder of the Australian Skeptics. It was Phillip Adams who had the bright idea of enlisting Dick Smith’s sponsorship of a prize of $10,000 for the first person who could convince a panel of scientific experts that their water divining could work.” This was the first stage of what is now the Australian Skeptics’ $100,000 challenge.
Gerrand was founding secretary of the Skeptics, and managed the production of the Skeptics’ newsletter and wrote many of its articles. He was also active as national secretary of the Australian Humanists, and in overlapping periods was the editor for the journals of the Australian Humanists and the Australian Rationalists.
His background in aviation led, among other things, to a series of important investigative articles on the famous Valentich UFO case.
He will be always be recognised as a key figure in the establishment of the Skeptics, and whose efforts and scientific approach allowed the group to grow both in size and influence.