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30% of Americans believe it's okay for businesses not to serve gay folks

Discrimination is up across the board.

Photo credit: Joe Amon / The Denver Post via Getty Images
  • A new poll by PPRI found that nearly a quarter of Americans say it's okay to not serve atheists on religious grounds.
  • The pro-discrimination number was even higher regarding gays and lesbians.
  • Bias against Jews, Muslims, and African Americans is also increasing.

Discrimination has long been an ugly human trait. Bias served an important role over the long course of evolution — "Is this friend or foe approaching?" — but this social and biological construct has largely failed us over the last few centuries.

In an age of instantaneous global connectivity the case for diversity is stark, yet the chains of the past still bind us.

That's the consensus of a new poll, at least, by the Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization that specializes in identifying trends in religious life and belief. This wide-ranging survey discovered that bias against atheists and the LBGT community still runs high; on the flip side, negative feelings toward the religious remains problematic, with more atheists believing it kosher to discriminate against the faithful.

The survey centers on a single question: Is it okay to refuse business to a person of [race/belief]? This updated poll (the last was in 2014) follows an infamous case of a Colorado baker that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor: yes, on religious grounds someone gay can be refused service. The baker is now being sued for a third time, the latest due to his refusal for creating a gender transition cake.

Transgenders are also included in the PPRI survey, along with gays and lesbians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, and African Americans, representing a broad swath of groups to discriminate against — belief, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation all on the table.

While this might seem a hodgepodge of groups to clump together, the broad topic of "service refusal" offers disturbing (yet also somewhat hopeful) clues into how the human mind invents and then swears by categorization. The survey was conducted by randomly interviewing 1,100 American adults over the age of 18 in April, 2019. Texas is oversampled in this poll, with 150 respondents living in that state.

The good news is that the majority of Americans do not feel it right to discriminate on any grounds. Yet the trend lines reveal a more troubling narrative: in every group, more Americans feel it justified to refuse service in 2019 than just five years earlier.

Atheists

While there is a growing number of atheists, "nones," and liminals in America, nearly a quarter of respondents (24 percent) claim that it's okay for business owners to refuse to serve atheists. Though the focus should be on the 72 percent of Americans that disagree, there is one disturbing trend: the nays are up nearly 10 percent since 2014, when only 15 percent of respondents felt the same. Religious backlash or oversampled Texas? Difficult to gauge.

Republicans remained the most anti-atheist group, with 37 percent giving a thumbs up to discriminating against nonbelievers. Independents came in at 21 percent and Democrats at 17 percent. The big shift is in Republicanism, as only 19 percent felt the same in 2014.

Gays and Lesbians

While every group feels discriminated against in some capacity in a time when everyone has a platform to argue such, over the last decade gays and lesbians have led the charge in fighting back against a history of persecution, jailing, and murder. Still, nearly a third of Americans (30 percent) believe it is fine for business owners to not serve them.

While Republicans are leading the polls (47 percent versus 21 percent in 2014), Independents and Democrats are also more biased today than just a half-decade ago, pushing the overall number up from 16 percent to 30 percent.

Transgender People

There was no poll for transgender people in 2014, showing just how quickly this topic has arisen in popular American consciousness. The numbers discriminating against the transgendered is comparable to gays and lesbians, with 29 percent of Americans giving a thumbs up to discriminatory behavior. Men were more biased in this regard (34 percent versus 24 percent of women), with Republicans landing at 44 percent, Independents at 25 percent, and Democrats at 19 percent.

Image source: Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Jews

Antisemitism is a growing concern in our world. While it has always been a problem (as thousands of years of texts describe), you'd think we would have learned the lesson we needed eighty years ago. Not the case.

Discriminating against Jews is up seven percent since 2014, landing at 19 percent this year. The charge is once again led by Republicans at 24 percent, followed by Democrats at 17 percent. Independents clocked in one point behind Democrats.

Muslims

Muslims were also not included in the 2014 poll. In 2019, they were slightly less biased against than atheists, slightly more than Jews, landing at 22 percent. As with every other category in this poll, men were more likely to favor discrimination than women (25 versus 20 percent), while 32 percent of Republicans, 20 percent of Independents, and 14 percent of Democrats are in favor of not serving them if the business owner felt that okay.

African Americans

Of all the groups polled, it might bring a certain sense of comfort that African Americans were the least discriminated against group, as this is the only category based purely on race. That said, like the other trend lines, we have a lot of work to do. Favor of discriminating against blacks rose 50 percent, from 10 percent to 15 percent in 2019. The biggest leap in bias occurred amongst white evangelical Protestants, up from 8 percent in 2014 to 22 percent this year.

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Image source: Sereno, et al
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A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

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