Published: 15-12-2015 06:00 | Updated: 09-03-2023 15:11

Increased citing of Bob Dylan in biomedical research

Bob Dylan on stage.
Bob Dylan in Finsbury Park, London 2011. This image is downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. Photo: Francisco Antunes CC BY 2.0

The number of articles citing the lyrics of Bob Dylan in the biomedical literature has increased exponentially since 1990, according to a new study from Karolinska Institutet. The results are being published in the special Christmas issue of The BMJ.

In 2014, the staff magazine KI Bladet revealed that a group of scientist at Karolinska Institutet had been sneaking the lyrics of Bob Dylan into their papers as part of a long-running bet. The Story quickly went viral, spreading from the local Swedish press to internationalmedia such as the Guardian and Washington Post. As a result another group of researchers also decided to investigate how the lyrics of Bob Dylan are cited in the titles of published biomedical papers in general.

A search of all his song and album titles was conducted in May 2015. A selection of the most popular Dylan songs was also searched to find modified titles. In all, 213 of 727 references were classified as unequivocally citing Bob Dylan and were included in the subsequent analysis.

According to the search, the first Dylan-citing article appeared in 1970 in Journal of Practical Nursing, eight years after his debut album was released. Interestingly, the researchers note that, after a handful of citations during Bob Dylan’s heyday in the first half of the 1970s, very few articles in the biomedical sciences cited Bob Dylan until 1990.

Has increased exponentially

However, since then, the number of cited articles has increased exponentially. The two most cited Dylan songs are The Times They Are A-Changin’ (135 articles) and Blowin’ In The Wind (36 articles). The search also revealed the use of other popular titles such as All Along The Watchtower, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, and Like A Rolling Stone.

Some journals have a greater preponderance of Dylan-citing articles than others; for instance, no less than six articles citing Dylan songs were found in Nature. However, citing Bob Dylan in a paper doesn’t appear to generate more attention in the research community, say the authors. They point to several possible explanations to the phenomena of citing Bob Dylan in biomedical research, but conclude that “it is clear that Bob Dylan’s rich song catalogue has provided a source of inspiration for medical scientists.”

The researchers behind this study are affiliated to the Karolinska Institutet University Library and the Institute of Environmental Medicine. This news article is an edited version of a press release from the BMJ.


Freewheelin’ scientists: citing Bob Dylan in the biomedical literature
Carl Gornitzki, Agne Larsson, Bengt Fadeel
The BMJ, online 14 December 2015, doi: 10.1136/bmj.h6505