It all started 17 years ago in 1997 when Swedish scientists John Lundberg and Eddie Weitzberg from the Karolinska Institute penned a Nature journal article about intestinal gasses. As huge fans of Bob Dylan, the pair couldn’t resist titling the paper ‘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, with the purpose of detecting inflammation, the title came up and it fitted there perfectly," Weitzberg said.
A few years later, a librarian spotted another Dylan reference in an article by two different medical professors from the same university. Jonas Frisén and Konstantinos Meletis had published a paper in 2003 on how non-neural cells could generate neurons in mice and humans, and called it ‘Blood on the tracks: a simple twist of fate?’
The four scientists quickly got in touch and a bet was made.
"The one who has written most articles with Dylan quotes, before going into retirement, wins a lunch at the Solna restaurant Jöns Jacob," Lundberg explained.
Shortly after, a fifth person, Professor Kenneth Chien, also joined in on the wager after discovering there were other Dylan-loving scientists on campus. In 1998, long before he met or knew about his colleagues, Chien had already published ‘Tangled up in blue: Molecular cardiology in the postmolecular era.’
"We're not talking about scientific papers - we could have got in trouble for that - but rather articles we have written about research by others, book introductions, editorials and things like that," said Weitzberg.
Weitzberg told The Local he didn’t want Dylan’s lyrics to detract from the importance of the scientists' work, but admitted that the competition so far has been fun.
"We really are not the only ones who try to be smart and catchy in our headlines," said Weitzberg.
"I would much rather become famous for my scientific work than for my Bob Dylan quotes... But yes, I am enjoying this."