Feature Christmas 2015: The Publication Game

Freewheelin’ scientists: citing Bob Dylan in the biomedical literature

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6505 (Published 14 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6505
  1. Carl Gornitzki, librarian1,
  2. Agne Larsson, statistician1,
  3. Bengt Fadeel, professor2
  1. 1University Library, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet
  1. Correspondence to: C Gornitzki carl.gornitzki{at}ki.se

Carl Gornitzki and colleagues examine how far medical scientists are under his spell

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.1 2 It all started in 1997 with a review in Nature Medicine entitled “Nitric oxide and inflammation: the answer is blowing in the wind.”3 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.

Knockin’ on pollen’s door

We used a list of all Dylan’s song and album titles downloaded from bobdylan.com to do a search using Medline in May 2015. In addition, we searched for truncated versions of a selection of the most popular Dylan songs to find modified titles,4 such as “Knockin’ on pollen’s door: live cell …

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