The Good News: You Can Download Hawking's PhD For Free; The Bad News: It Took 50 Years To Make It Happen
from the why-are-we-waiting? dept
Techdirt has been writing about the (slow but steady) rise of open access for a decade. That’s as long as the Annual International Open Access Week has been running. Cambridge University came up with quite a striking way to join in the celebrations:
Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis, ‘Properties of expanding universes’, has been made freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world, after being made accessible via the University of Cambridge’s Open Access repository, Apollo.
The 1966 doctoral thesis by the world’s most recognisable scientist is the most requested item in Apollo with the catalogue record alone attracting hundreds of views per month. In just the past few months, the University has received hundreds of requests from readers wishing to download Professor Hawking’s thesis in full.
The idea has been quite a hit — literally, since the demand for Hawking’s thesis was so great on Monday, that it hit the Apollo server hard enough to take it offline for a while. The Guardian reported:
A University of Cambridge spokesperson said: “We have had a huge response to Prof Hawking’s decision to make his PhD thesis publicly available to download, with almost 60,000 downloads in less than 24 hours.
“As a result, visitors to our Open Access site may find that it is performing slower than usual and may at times be temporarily unavailable.”
Popular as the 1966 PhD has proved, the point of the exercise was to spread the word about open access. Hawking is quoted as saying:
Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.
Cambridge University made a further announcement to mark Open Access Week. Dr Arthur Smith, Deputy Head of Scholarly Communication, said:
From October 2017 onwards, all PhD students graduating from the University of Cambridge will be required to deposit an electronic copy of their doctoral work for future preservation. And like Professor Hawking, we hope that many students will also take the opportunity to freely distribute their work online by making their thesis Open Access. We would also invite former University alumni to consider making their theses Open Access, too.
That’s great, as is the free availability of Hawking’s PhD. But the question for both has to be: why has it taken so long — 50 years in the case of the thesis? Even allowing for the fact that the Internet was not a mass medium for 30 of those 50 years, there was nothing stopping Cambridge University putting PhDs online from the mid-1990s. Similarly, why make depositing theses as open access optional? The University would be quite justified in requiring the thesis of any PhD it grants to be online and freely downloadable immediately under a suitable CC license. The moment to make that happen is now, not in another 10 years’ time.