Brain types can be painful
Everything I know about brain types I learned from Dr. Mel Brooks, who, in "Young Frankenstein," revealed that there is one particular type of brain you want to stay away from - the "abby-normal" brain. But it turns out there are quite a few different types of brains Igor could have chosen from - at least 16 different types, according to Jon Niednagel, founder of the Brain Type Institute and generally recognized by many - including Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, who may or may not be using Niednagel's input (we'll get to that later) in today's player draft - to be an expert on brain types. Now, you might think the founder of something as important as the Brain Type Institute would have a long list of academic credentials. Niednagel's academic vitae? A degree in business finance. "I have been trained and licensed in certain things, some of which I will reveal and some I won't," Niednagel said. "But the issue there is this is what I have been doing for three decades.... By the way, I was a science minor and was going to go to med school." Now, this sounds like one of those hotel commercials - you know, the guy flying a helicopter and a passenger asks, "Are you a pilot?" And the guy replies, "No, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night." But there is no shortage of supporters who swear by Niednagel's ability to study people and their brain types to determine what sort of strengths and weaknesses those individuals have and how it might play out in certain situations - particularly in the arena of athletics. Well-renowned medical correspondent Dr. Bob Arnot is a believer, and is quoted as such on Niednagel's Web site. "Jonathan P. Niednagel's scientific and 21st century approach to evaluating, developing, and motivating people, is simply stunning. I've found it the most important and helpful information in the last 20 years of human understanding and development .. Those who fail to use Brain Types will be at a distinct disadvantage now and in the future." And Arnot backed that quote in an e-mail. There are a number of prominent sports executives, such as Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics and Kevin McHale of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are true believers. Ainge and McHale have used Niednagel's input in their personnel decisions. So has Bowden, who said Niednagel's success rate convinced him there was some validity to the work. When he became general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Bowden began using Niednagel. "We started watching his success rate, which was at a ridiculous level, and added it as one small piece to a huge puzzle to make a determination on a player," he said. "We used it in drafting Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and Ryan Zimmerman [last year's top pick for the Nationals], and we made some moves that worked. It's like all information, you dissect it and sift through it, and you never make a decision on just that." So Bowden declared in his Washington Examiner column last week that Niednagel would be part of the Nationals "War Room" during the draft. "Jon Niednagel will advise us on brain imaging," he wrote. Maybe he will be. Maybe he won't. After spending hours over several days talking to Niednagel, at least I was able to determine what brain types we both were after these discussions - his was meltdown, mine was mush. I went to Niednagel's Web site and read the testimonials and descriptions of the work Niednagel has done. My research also turned up critics in psychology circles, such as Dr. Terry Sandbek, who appeared with Niednagel on an ESPN "Outside the Lines" show several years ago. "In sports, it's not about critical thinking, it's about winning," Sandbek said in an interview this weekend. "When you go to a fortune teller or a psychic, the fact that you hook up with such a person means you have a positive bias. It's real hard to admit what they said didn't work, and when you throw money into it, it is almost impossible to go against the grain and said, 'That didn't work.' "The Web site says they are doing all this research and have pretty looking graphs and numbers, but his idea of research is you go to a library and read an article," Sandbek continued. "We have asked him to give us the names of the researchers that are working on this. What are the peer review journals? Where is the funding coming from? What are the credentials? The normal stuff you would want to know. Either there is nothing there, or else it is a closely guarded secret, which is silly, because you don't do that in science. You want everyone to know what you are doing because, if they are doing something else, you can collaborate and that sort of thing. It just seems like a lot of smoke and mirrors." Niednagel, who said he will be looking at NBA prospects in Italy soon and determining their brain types just by observing them, said Bowden approached him to help with the Nationals draft. "Jim asked for some assistance here in the draft, and because we go back, I said I would do what I can to help," Niednagel said. "That is where I am coming from." Niednagel tried to describe what he does with this admittedly "vague" illustration: "Suppose you have a house. You just built it and you want to put some trees and some plants in your yard. I guess, if you went to the nursery, and you didn't know anything about trees, more or less, or plants, and you didn't know what you needed, you would go and ask somebody there about the kinds of trees and plants that would do best in each spots and what it would require to help them grow. "That crude illustration is the way it works with life and sports, and that is that if we consider for a moment that what I say is truthful, and that's why I'm involved in the genetic research and brain imaging, as well as biomechanical research. This is not just a psychological theory, it is something I have been working very, very hard on and have been for a number of years to validate it scientifically." Niednagel said he is very close to doing that with genetic research, the details of which - and who he's working with - he keeps private. So I asked him about Sandbek's criticisms, and his brain type took a sharp turn. "I don't need this kind of a conversation," he said. "This is not what I am trying to bring up, and if anything is written in a way that is not accurate, it will be sadly refuted in the not-to-distant future." We didn't talk much longer. The next day, Niednagel called the paper looking for me. I called him back. "I never was working for the Nationals," Niednagel said. "I have a quote from you saying you were doing this work to help Jim Bowden," I answered. "Doing what work?," Niednagel said. "You said 'I'm doing this work to help Jim Bowden a little bit,' and I spoke to Jim yesterday and he had great things to say about you and that they were going to be using you," I said. Niednagel went on for about 15 minutes about how he wouldn't have the time now to work with the Nationals, and how he hadn't been ready for those kind of questions, and so I asked him again if he was going to work with the Nationals, and Niednagel said, "No. I mean, the only way would be if I felt it would still help in some capacity. At this junction, I don't know. I can't say absolutely I won't do it. It is at my discretion if I wanted to or not. It was an invitation from Jim, and that is where it is at the moment." He went on from there to defend his work, but of course, you know what's coming. He's going to brain type me. On the phone. Now. Here's some of his observations: "You're very conceptual. You're always daydreaming. You're imagining things. You can visualize things very, very well." I told that to my wife, who burst out laughing. "We lived in this house for two years before you realized there was wallpaper on the kitchen wall," she said. Niednagel also said I was "an energetic guy. You don't like to sit around and twiddle your thumbs." Now, not only can I sit and twiddle my thumbs, I have been known to sit on my thumbs for days at a time. In fact, I was twiddling my thumbs when I got a message from the office just hours after Niednagel and I had talked for the second time. Niednagel had called, again. He said he won't be in Washington for the start of the draft today, Bowden doesn't need his involvement this year. Here's my self diagnosis for my brain type today - aching.