16 December 2015 15:22:29 IST

How Bob Dylan inspires medical scientists

Number of articles citing lyrics of Bob Dylan increased exponentially since 1990

Bob Dylan is a source of inspiration for medical scientists, according to a new study.

The number of articles citing the lyrics of Bob Dylan in the biomedical literature has increased exponentially since 1990, as per the study.

In 2014, it was revealed that a group of scientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden had been sneaking the lyrics of Bob Dylan into their papers as part of a long-running bet. So, another group of Karolinska researchers decided to investigate how the lyrics of Bob Dylan are cited in the titles of published biomedical papers.

A search of all his song and album titles was conducted in May. 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. However, since then, the number of 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.

The researchers point to several possible explanations but conclude, “it is clear that Bob Dylan’s rich song catalogue has provided a source of inspiration for medical scientists.”