Old Eugenics vs. New Genetics

Dr Merryn EkbergAn article in the latest Social History of Medicine, 20(3), asks if “the new genetics is a renewal, reform or return of eugenics.” In her discussion, author Merryn Ekberg examines several issues that will also be of interest to historians of psychology.

One of the greatest fears associated with the new genetics is the resurgence of eugenics, but too often this assumes the new genetics is eugenics without investigating the diverse definitions and interpretations of eugenics. The aim of this paper is to critically investigate the concept of eugenics in theory and in practice…. The discussion is oriented around six key arguments that illuminate the central points of convergence and divergence between the old eugenics and the new genetics. Ultimately, the paper concludes that despite significant procedural, legislative and administrative differences between the old eugenics and the new genetics, and despite significant spatial, temporal and cultural variations in interpretation and implementation, at the ideological level, there is essentially no difference. The old eugenics was genetics and the new genetics is eugenics.


  • Ekberg, M. (2007). The Old Eugenics and the New Genetics Compared. Social History of Medicine, 20(3), 581-593.

About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.