It is common to see things described as the "gold standard". It means that something is the best and is the ideal against which other things are to be compared; it cannot be superseded.
I often see it used in the medical domain, where a certain diagnostic test (e.g., the nasopharyngeal swab PCR test for infection with the Coronavirus causing COVID-19) is considered the most accurate and then other tests (e.g., cheaper or faster tests) are then evaluated against this benchmark.
The etymology is covered in another question. In short, it is derived from the historical monetary system where the value of all currencies (e.g., US dollar) is pegged to the value of gold (i.e., the metal). Thus gold was the thing against which the value of all other currencies was measured.
I don't like this term and would like to avoid using it.
First, the desired meaning is not predominant; if you search the internet for "gold standard" you will mostly get results for the monetary system, not the more general phrase.
Second, the etymology is outdated; the original meaning of the term now has the opposite connotation. The monetary gold standard was abandoned in the 1970s. Economists consider the gold standard to be a bad monetary system. Thus, if you are interested in economics and history, the term "gold standard" actually is associated with being outdated and flawed -- which is close to the opposite of the intended meaning. (Of course, many people are unaware of the original meaning of the term. But it could have a resurgance.)
(A note in response to comments: Why I want to avoid this term is relevant, but not essential, to the question. If you don't see a problem with the term, the question can be answered regardless.)
My question: Is there a better phrase to use in place of "gold standard"? For example, what term could be used in a medical study comparing a new diagnostic test against the gold standard test? I'm not aware of any good substitute that has essentially the same meaning. Here are two example sentences where I would like a replacement:
- A nasal swab is the gold standard for diagnosing COVID-19.
- The IPK served as the gold standard for all scales from 1889 until 2019.
The best substitute I can think of is "official," as in "a nasal swab is the official way to diagnose COVID-19". "Official" implies some form of uniqueness. But "official" implies the existence of some authority that gives it this designation (as opposed to scientific consensus).
In response to the answers and comments doubting the premise of this question: I personally have a negative association with the phrase "gold standard" because I know people who advocate for returning to the gold standard or its modern equivalent, Bitcoin, and have discussed the topic at length. Several prominent US politicians continue to advocate for a return to the gold standard. Thus asserting that no one will interpret the phrase in terms of monetary policy is simply not convincing.