Can we have a text version of Hawking thesis?

Dear University of Cambridge,

Congratulations on publishing Stephen Hawkings’ PhD thesis, “Properties of expanding universes” online. I along with many others salute your commitment to open access!

However, I’m a little disappointed that alongside the PDF of the scanned thesis, there isn’t a text version available.

There are some important reasons to create a text version:

  1. Accessibility to those with dis-abilities,
  2. Searchability,
  3. Access by those on low-bandwidth connections (the scanned PDF is ~20 MB).

I believe the above points relate to Cambridge University’s adoption of the FAIR principles, as mentioned in the terms of use. Note that while the use of “accessible” in the FAIR principles does not directly relate to the term used in relation to dis-abilities, the FAIR principles particularly “findable” and “interoparable” correlate to some extent with the POUR principles within WCAG 2.1.

I think my point is particularly appropriate, given that Stephen Hawking himself relies on a wheel-chair and other assistive technologies.

A useful first step would be to publish the abstract, table of contents, and extended meta-data (including license) in HTML/ text format.

Note, if you’re publishing a research output or similar work as a text-based PDF, then you should look at tagged PDF (for accessibility), and PDF/A (archive) for long-term preservation.

Here is Hawking’s thesis abstract (via Google Scholar and the British Library):

Some implications and consequences of the expansion of the universe are examined. In Chapter 1 it is shown that this expansion creates grave difficulties for the Hoyle-Narlikar theory of gravitation. Chapter 2 deals with perturbations of an expanding homogeneous and isotropic universe. The conclusion is reached that galaxies cannot be formed as a result of the growth of perturbations that were initially small. The propagation and absorption of gravitational radiation is also investigated in this approximation. In Chapter 3 gravitational radiation in an expanding universe is examined by a method of asymptotic expansions. The ‘peeling off’ behaviour and the asymptotic group are derived. Chapter 4 deals with the occurrence of singularities in cosmological models. It is shown that a singularity is inevitable provided that certain very general conditions are satisfied.

Stephen Hawking, on Wikipedia.

And, here’s a tweet on the subject.



P.S. Full disclosure. I write this fully accepting that my own PhD thesis is currently only available as a scanned PDF. I need to change this! (However, my thesis has negligible or zero scientific or cultural importance, when compared with the work of Stephen Hawking ;).)


03 November 2017: The main url now points to a HTML page with extended meta-data - progress! Examining the Wayback Machine, it seems that the URL originally pointed to a HTML page, then changed so that it redirected (302) to the PDF. It has now been changed to serve a HTML page.

Cambridge University’s CUDL contains a table of contents:

  • Abstract (image 9, page 2)
  • Introduction (image 10, page 3)
  • Acknowledgements (image 14, page 7)
  • Chapter 1: The Hoyle-Narlikar theory of gravitation (image 15, page 8)
  • Chapter 2: Perturbations (image 31, page 24)
  • Chapter 3: Gravitational radiation in an expanding universe (image 54, page 47)
  • Chapter 4: Singularities (image 101, page 94)
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