Five Swedish-based scientists have been inserting Bob Dylan lyrics into research articles as part of a long-running bet. After 17 years, the researchers revealed their race to quote Dylan as many times as possible before retirement.
The bet began in 1997, following Nature’s publication of a paper by Jon Lundberg and Eddie Weitzberg, Nitric Oxide and Inflammation: The Answer Is Blowing In the Wind. “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 recently explained.
That was as far as it went until several years later, when a librarian pointed out that two of the scientists’ colleagues, Jonas Frisén and Konstantinos Meletis, had used a different Dylan reference in a paper about the ability of non-neural cells to generate neurons: 2003’s Blood on the Tracks: A Simple Twist of Fate?. Soon the bet was struck: “The one who has written most articles with Dylan quotes, before going into retirement, wins a lunch at the [local] restaurant Jöns Jacob,” Lundberg said.
Word spread quickly through Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, where all four men work, and before long there was a fifth competitor: Kenneth Chien, a professor of cardiovascular research, who is also keen to win a free lunch. By the time he met the others, he already had one Dylan paper to his name – Tangled Up in Blue: Molecular Cardiology in the Postmolecular Era, published in 1998.
With five competing rivals, the pace of Dylan references accelerated. Lundberg and Weitzberg’s The Biological Role of Nitrate and Nitrite: The Times They Are a-Changin’, in 2009; Eph Receptors Tangled Up in Two in 2010; Dietary Nitrate – A Slow Train Coming, in 2011. The bet is not for strict scientific papers, Weitzberg said. “We could have got in trouble for that,” he said. “[This is for] articles we have written about research by others, book introductions, editorials and things like that.”
All the scientists are great fans of Dylan – he ought to win the Nobel prize for literature, suggests Weitzberg – but they are also realistic about his role in their careers. As Weitzberg told the Local: “I would much rather become famous for my scientific work than for my Bob Dylan quotes.”