“Brain scam” (Brain types)

BRAIN2As a youth sports coach, Jon Niednagel says he observed that children with similar personalities tended to have similar motor skills. Rather than applying the Scientific Method to see if this was true and what it might mean, he just figured he had the ability to look at someone and tell what kind of brain they had and how skilled an athlete they would be.

Without offering evidence for their existence, he asserted this was due to everyone having one of 16 brain types. Consistent with his pseudoscientific approach, he worked in isolation and sought confirmation for his beliefs rather than submitting his work for peer review. He claims 30 years of rigorous study, but none of it has produced evidence supporting his claims. Those 30 years have included no controlled experiments assessing the effectiveness of brain typing. As Niedgnagel is the only one who claims to be able to do it, his participation would be necessary, and he has declined to do so.

His ideas are comparable to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and reminiscent of the discredited work of Carl Jung. This is most apparent in the 16 types being all-or-nothing categories which ignores people’s complexity and fluidity. One distinction from Myers-Briggs and Jung is that Brain Types emphasizes motor skills, but this adds nothing to its validity.

Niednagel claims a 100 percent success rate at using a person’s body language, posture, and speech to accurately assess their brain type and associated athletic ability. Yet he is both the predictor and analyzer of these predictions. He then touts this as being the basis for a future branch of neuroscience.

Elements of Brain Typing are akin to astrology, perhaps most so when Niednagel writes, “Nature is the single greatest determinant for why we do what we do.” Like horoscopes, his descriptions of brain types are also broad and generic, a necessary element when trying to cram 400 million people into the same box.

His scientific evidence for his assertions is, “Take my word for it.” Here’s the actual quote: “We believe it won’t be long before Brain Types are proven genetically.” I’m seeing now why he hasn’t submitted that for peer review.

Belief may be tied to motivation, but it is specious to pass it off as science. Darwin, Newton, and Einstein all had beliefs, but they employed the Scientific Method, followed the evidence, and published their findings. If they had merely stated beliefs without any backing, we would not know their names and they would not have changed what we know about the world.

Certainly none of them sold a product and waited for scientists to get around to validating it. Niednagel is a businessman, not a scientist. He also speaks with authority, which could sway people. Consider this affirming of the consequent, which features plenty of confidence but no corroboration:

“Brain Typing has become the world’s most accurate and sophisticated approach to understanding why people do what they do. Each person has only one of the 16
Brain Types, which gives them an inborn, genetically predisposed wiring that directly regulates both mental and motor skills. Each Brain Type not only has inherent and specific mental proficiencies and deficiencies but physical ones as well.”

This sounds like the beginning of a racist manifesto, but Niednagel is skilled enough at public relations to snuff that out. So he adds this disclaimer: “These inborn traits…exclude personal ethics and morality. “

He then gets back to emphasizing the fervency of his beliefs: “We believe it won’t be long before Brain Types are proven genetically.” One hallmark of some pseudosciences is that their proponents say they will be validated once a separate branch of science starts doing its part. However, this is the only instance I’ve seen where the field one is promoting is also presented as the one being derelict.

There are no studies supporting Niednagel’s claims, but he boasts several testimonials from professional athletes such as Sammy Sosa and Kevin McHale. This is an appeal to irrelevant authority, and he appeals to vanity as well: “People of the other 15 Types can never attain the distinct giftedness of your particular Brain Type. You could have the same Brain Type as Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Michael Jordan, Tom Cruise, or Oprah Winfrey.” Or the same as Manson, Stalin, and Dahmer.

While the 16 types are different, one similarity they all share is being able to benefit by buying Niednagel’s products. And that will lead to this: “By determining Brain Type, one can know what one is best cut out to do in life, and how best to get there.” And I can tell you that a person following this advice will succeed, through self-fulfilling prophecy, subjective validation, and post hoc reasoning.

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