Robert Epstein (born June 19, 1953) is an American psychologist, professor, author, and journalist. He earned his Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard University in 1981, was editor in chief of Psychology Today, a visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego, and the founder and director emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Concord, MA.
Epstein has been a commentator for National Public Radio's Marketplace, the Voice of America, and Disney Online. His popular writings have appeared in Reader's Digest, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times (London), Good Housekeeping, Parenting, and other magazines and newspapers. An autobiographical essay documenting his long involvement with the media was published in 2006 in the academic journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
Work in psychology
In various writings, Epstein has been a strong advocate of the view that people can deliberately learn to love each other. He studied arranged marriages and found that in many of them the partners developed greater feelings of affection for each other than did couples who had married for love. In 2002 he published a study in which he said that many couples marry for other reasons than love, and develop love in their relationships over time. He gave students in one of his classes at University of California, San Diego extra credit for taking part in affection building exercises. At one time he used himself as an experimental subject to investigate this.
Epstein collected data from over 18,000 people via the Internet for a study on sexual orientation published in 2007. He found a continuum between heterosexuality and homosexuality that is skewed by societal influences. He also found that some people changed their orientation during their lives.
Epstein is also a scholar in the field of psychological maturity, and once published an online maturity test. He is critical of what he sees as the "artificial extension of childhood" over the past century, arguing that what society views as the "teen brain" is often the result of Western cultural factors and infantilization, rather than a set of brain characteristics that are inherent in all humans throughout their teen years. In certain essays, he has cited studies which found that some teenagers are in some ways more developmentally mature than most adults, and advocates giving young people more adult responsibility, as well as placing them in environments in which they will not be prone to socializing simply with other teenagers.
Criticism of Google
In 2012, Epstein publicly disputed with Google Search over a security warning placed on links to his website. His website, which features mental health screening tests, was blocked for serving malware that could infect visitors to the site. Epstein emailed "Larry Page, Google's chief executive; David Drummond, Google's legal counsel; Epstein's congressman; and journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, and Newsweek." In it, Epstein threatened legal action if the warning concerning his website was not removed, and denied that any problems with his website existed. Several weeks later, Epstein admitted his website had been hacked, but criticized Google for tarnishing his name and not helping him find the infection.
After this incident, Epstein offered other criticism of Google's practices. In 2013, he wrote in Time magazine that Google had "a fundamentally deceptive business model". In 2015, he said that Google could rig the 2016 US presidential election and that search engine manipulation was "a serious threat to the democratic system of government". According to Epstein, "Perhaps the most effective way to wield political influence in today's high-tech world is to donate money to a candidate and then to use technology to make sure he or she wins. The technology guarantees the win, and the donation guarantees allegiance, which Google has certainly tapped in recent years with the Obama administration."
In a 2017 article, Epstein criticized efforts by companies such as Google and Facebook to suppress fake news through algorithms, noting "the dangers in allowing big technology companies to decide which news stories are legitimate".
Other journalists and researchers have expressed concerns similar to Epstein's. Safiya Noble cited Epstein's research about search engine bias in her 2018 book Algorithms of Oppression, although she has expressed doubt that search engines ought to counter-balance the content of large, well-resourced and highly trained newsrooms with what she called "disinformation sites" and "propaganda outlets". Ramesh Srinivasan, a professor of information studies at UCLA focusing on "the relationships between technology and politics", agreed with Epstein that "the larger issue" of how search engines can shape users' views is "extremely important", but questioned how many undecided voters are using Google to them help decide who to vote for.
In July 2019, Epstein presented his research to the Senate Judiciary Committee, claiming that Google could manipulate "upwards of 15 million votes" in 2020 and recommending that Google's search index be made public. In a clarification to a question asked by Ted Cruz he also said that "2.6 million is a rock bottom minimum" for how many votes Google might have swung towards Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election, and that "the range is between 2.6 million and up to 10.4 million votes". Google dismissed Epstein's research as "nothing more than a poorly constructed conspiracy theory". Epstein's white paper was not peer-reviewed and was challenged by other researchers. Among the criticisms was that a small sample size was used to extrapolate conclusions about a population of millions and the lack of disclosure of the underlying methodology. Panagiotis Metaxas, a Wellesley College computer science professor, said the paper demonstrated a possibility of "what such an influence could have been if Google was manipulating its electoral search results", adding "I and other researchers who have been auditing search results for years know that this did not happen."
- Notebooks: B. F. Skinner (editor) (1980) ISBN 0-13-624106-9
- Skinner for the Classroom: Selected Papers (editor) (1982) ISBN 0-87822-261-8
- Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays (1996) ISBN 0-275-94452-2
- Creativity Games for Trainers (1996) ISBN 0-07-021363-1
- Pure Fitness: Body Meets Mind (with Lori Fetrick) (1996) ISBN 1-57028-087-8
- Self-Help Without the Hype (1996) ISBN 0-937100-00-5
- Irrelativity (1997) ISBN 1-884470-13-0
- The New Psychology Today Reader (1999) ISBN 0-7872-5617-X
- Stress-Management and Relaxation Activities for Trainers (1999) ISBN 0-07-021762-9
- The Big Book of Creativity Games (2000) ISBN 0-07-136176-6
- The Big Book of Stress-Relief Games (2000) ISBN 0-07-021866-8
- The Big Book of Motivation Games (with Jessica Rogers) (2001) ISBN 0-07-137234-2
- The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen (2007) ISBN 0-7879-8737-9
- Parsing the Turing Test: Philosophical and Methodological Issues in the Quest for the Thinking Computer (co-editor) (2008) ISBN 978-1-4020-6708-2
- Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence (2010) ISBN 1-884995-59-4
- "Do Gays Have a Choice?", Scientific American, March 2006
- "Giving psychology away: A personal journey". Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2006, 1(4), 389-400
- A psychologist's guide to love — planning on it, The China Post, 2009-12-31
- Psychology A2: the complete companion, Mike Cardwell, Cara Flanagan, Nelson Thornes, 2003, page 21
- You can make yourself fall in love, theory says, Washington Post, 2010-1-3
- "Editor as guinea pig: Putting love to a real test". Psychology Today, May/June 2002, p5
- Wayne Weiten, 2010, Psychology: Themes and Variations, Cengage Learning, p312
- Colour Me Adult, Trinidad Express, 2011-11-25
- Psychologist says teens won't grow up unless treated as adults, The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, 2007-6-15
- Perlroth, Nicole. One Man's Fight With Google Over a Security Warning January 5, 2012.
- Epstein, Robert. Comment on "Readers and Experts Weigh In on a Site Owner vs. Google" January 6, 2012 for article; January 24, 2012 for Epstein's comment.
- Epstein, Robert. Google's Hypocrisy
- Epstein, Robert. Google's Dance
- Epstein, Robert. How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election
- Epstein, Robert (April 10, 2017). "Fake News Is a Fake Problem". Medium.com. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
- Noble, Safiya Umoja (2018). Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: New York University Press. pp. 52–53. ISBN 9781479849949. OCLC 987591529.
- Halper, Evan (24 March 2019). "This psychologist claims Google search results unfairly steer voters to the left. Conservatives love him". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
- "Google Expert to Senator Cruz: 15 Million 2020 Votes At Risk". NewsBusters.
- "Senate Judiciary Testimony by Dr. Robert Epstein". CSPAN.
- "Could Google rankings skew an election? New group aims to find out". Washington Post.
- Linda Qiu (August 19, 2019). "Fact check: Trump falsely claims Google 'manipulated' millions of 2016 votes". New York Times. Retrieved August 19, 2019.