Who says scientific researchers aren’t a whimsical bunch?
A clever study published in the Christmas edition of The BMJ seeks to determine how many times Bob Dylan’s lyrics are cited in scientific and medical research papers. The short answer: a lot, particularly after 1990 when, the authors note, specific references to Dylan songs “increased exponentially” for a number of possible reasons.
What might have compelled these savvy, Stockholm-based Dylan aficionados to purse this endeavor? As the paper explains:
In September 2014 it emerged that a group of scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden had been sneaking the lyrics of Bob Dylan into their papers as part of a long running bet. The story, originally published in the house magazine KI-Bladet, quickly went viral — spreading from the local Swedish press to international media such as the Guardian and Washington Post. It all started in 1997 with a review in Nature Medicine entitled “Nitric oxide and inflammation: the answer is blowing in the wind.” A local phenomenon was thus revealed, but was this Dylan citing unique to the Karolinska Institute? We decided to investigate how Dylan’s lyrics are cited in the biomedical literature.
The inquiry unfolded like this:
Carl Gornitzki, a research librarian at the University Library of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and two colleagues searched all Dylan lyrics (plus truncated versions of popular songs, for instance, “Knockin’ on pollen’s door: live cell imaging of early polarization events in germinating Arabidopsis pollen“) on Medline in May of this year.
“In all,” the authors write, “213 of 727 references were classified as unequivocally citing Dylan. The earliest article we identified appeared in 1970 in the Journal of Practical Nursing [The Times They Are A Changin’], eight years after his debut album was released.” Continue reading