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This (admittedly old) question on meta.SO concerns the handling of answers which contain a link and essentially nothing else. There are some varied opinions on how to handle such answers, ranging from upvoting (the view that as long as the answer to the question can be found at the link, it's fine) to flagging as "not an answer" (the view that "outsourcing" the burden of answering to another site is effectively useless).

Since physics is somewhat different from programming, it occurs to me that the discussion on meta.SO might not be completely applicable to this site. What does the physics.SE community think of link-only answers? Do we upvote them, edit them, downvote them, flag them, etc.?

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    $\begingroup$ IMO we should separate casual sites from links to papers, which are a bit different story (greater persistence but possibly restricted access). $\endgroup$ – user68 Aug 21 '11 at 20:11
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No -- they're not acceptable for the reasons covered in https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/how-to-answer --

Provide context for links

A link to a potential solution is always welcome, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.

If you have to follow the link to get the core of the answer, that answer is ... really not a valid answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh cool, I completely forgot about that page. So what would you have us do when somebody does post an answer that consists of a link with essentially no context? $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 23 '11 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ If it's a good link I edit it to add some context myself. If it's not so good I leave a comment. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Aug 23 '11 at 6:30
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I've never been a fan a plain links. You need at least to summarize the gist of the what is on the other side, and if there is a figure, equation, table, or quote that is the main point that content should be copied locally.

The proceeding is something I believe to be true all over the Stack Exchange network

But there is another issue on Physics.SE...

...maybe I'm just suffering from confirmation bias, but I have this feeling that a greater fraction of bare links go to...ahem...unusual...yeah...theories than we see in posts whose content is local.

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I have noticed an interesting thing on Physics SE, which is that someone will have a link that answers the question very well and then just put it as a comment. These comments often contain some context for the link as well.

One reason you could come up with for hesitating to post an answer and just posting a comment is that you're not at risk for negative reputation. I do think that getting more answers would be better though. I've had to tell people to make their comment into an answer before, and I think this site would be better if there were more answers to choose from, as long as people are vigilant about distributing their votes to the most productive answers. After all, that's the value of the voting system in the first place.

That all said, yes, context should be provided. At minimum an answer should have a sentence justifying why the content at the link answers the question. This is often not the case and they need to justify themselves.

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