One of scientists’ favorite singer-songwriters has just won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Bob Dylan, whose lyrics have been quoted, paraphrased, or cited in hundreds of papers and letters in the biomedical research literature alone, was awarded the prize today for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Even for researchers born decades after the 75-year-old musician, Dylan’s lines seem to stay forever young. A 2015 analysis published in The BMJ found 727 potential references to Dylan songs in a search of the Medline biomedical journals database; the authors ultimately concluded that 213 of the references could be “classified as unequivocally citing Dylan.” The earliest article the authors identified appeared in 1970 in The Journal of Practical Nursing. The title? “The Times They Are a-Changin’”—a line the study found to be the single most commonly used Dylan lyric, appearing in dozens of article titles.
In 2014, a group of scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute in Stockholm revealed that they had been competing for nearly 2 decades to see who could sneak the most Dylan lyrics into their papers. Two of the researchers, Jon Lundberg and Eddie Weitzberg, said the contest originated with a 1997 paper they published in Nature Medicine entitled “Nitric Oxide and Inflammation: The answer is blowing in the wind.”
The scientists say they didn’t think twice about riffing on Dylan’s song, which became a megahit in 1963 for Peter, Paul and Mary. “We both really like Bob Dylan so when we set about writing an article concerning the measurement of nitric oxide gas in both the respiratory tracts and the intestine … the title came up and it fitted there perfectly,” Weitzberg said in a Karolinska press release.
Weitzberg even argued that Dylan’s work was so good that it deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature. His wish was answered today.
Updated, 10/13/2016, 2:19p.m.: The item has been updated to clarify that Peter, Paul and Mary scored a hit with Bob Dylan's song "Blowin' in the wind," which he wrote in 1962.