James West

James West

Senior Digital Editor

James West is senior digital editor for Mother Jones, and before that, the senior producer for its reporting project Climate Desk. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

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Dear Rick Santorum: Sorry, the Pope Actually Did Study Science. So He Might Know About Science.

| Tue Jun. 16, 2015 11:57 AM EDT

"I am not a scientist!" is now the standard escape hatch through which Republican climate deniers slither to avoid talking about climate science or evolution. From Sen. Marco Rubio, asked how old the Earth is: "I'm not a scientist, man." Rick Perry whipped out the same "I'm not a scientist" line last year in DC while questioning the consensus around climate change. Jeb Bush said the same thing back in 2009.

Now at least one GOP presidential hopeful is turning the talking point into an attack on the pope, ahead of his landmark encyclical on the environment, to be released Thursday. (A draft of the document has already leaked). Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Catholic with a history of criticizing Pope Francis, says the pope should leave science to the scientists. "The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science," he told Dom Giordano, a radio host in Philadelphia, earlier this month. "And I think that we are probably better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we're really good at, which is theology and morality."

One problem with Santorum's retort? The pope, while obviously not a climate scientist (he's the pope), actually did study science and therefore might have a better grasp of fundamental scientific processes than most people who have not studied science.

The National Catholic Reporter and the Official Vatican Network both report that Francis, then Jorge Bergoglio, earned a technician's degree in chemistry from a technical school in Buenos Aires before joining the seminary. Sylvia Poggioli from NPR also reports Francis worked as a chemist. Listen to her report from Morning Edition, below, from Rome:

And for good measure, here's a video my Climate Desk colleagues—Tim McDonnell and Suzanne Goldenberg (from the Guardian)—put together last week. They asked a bunch of climate change deniers at the annual Heartland Institute conference in Washington, DC, what they think of the pope's calls for action on climate change:


Tue Jul. 7, 2015 5:07 PM EDT
Mon Jan. 12, 2015 2:46 PM EST