ically, a "gold standard" is a highly-valued and well-accepted instance
of a class
against which other such instances can be compared.
The gold standard for websites looking to encourage vast and free-wheeling, if sometimes uncontrolled discussion about current events, is Slashdot.
In psychology and medicine, a treatment that is designated the "gold standard" is not necessarily the best treatment, but it is one that has been around a long time, intensively studied, and is relatively well-understood. Experimental
treatments can then be compared to it, as well as to placebo
, in order to determine their effectiveness and usefulness in comparison to existing therapies and to each other.
For example, many studies of antidepressant
medication or psychotherapy
still use imipramine
, an old tricyclic antidepressant
as their gold standard. While the SSRI
s are generally thought to be better, imipramine
has been used much more extensively and offers a common basis of comparison among studies.