Stand up to scrutiny

To 'stand up to scrutiny' is to be valid even after close analysis

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Stand up to scrutiny

“Stand up.” We all know what that means, right? If you’re sitting down, and you get up onto your feet, now you’re vertical: you’re standing up. But today, I’ve got a new way to use “stand up.”

We use “stand up” with a theory or an argument, something that is not certain. And “stand up to scrutiny” means that theory or argument stays valid, stays believable, even under close analysis and scrutiny. “Scrutiny” means like careful examination, if someone looks closely and carefully at something, they scrutinize it.

I told you a few weeks ago that I was going to read a new Stephen King book. I hadn’t read a Stephen King book in a long time. So I started one called “The Outsiders.” And, no spoilers, but a popular sports coach is accused of a terrible crime. But he, the coach, the accused—he has an alibi. He says he was in another city. That’s an “alibi.” Your story about where you were when a crime was committed is your alibi.

And one of the questions in the first half of the book is whether the coach’s alibi stands up to scrutiny. That means, when someone looks closely at the coach’s alibi, when someone analyzes it, when someone looks at the evidence, will the coach’s alibi remain valid? Or will it be discredited? That’s the question: will it stand up to scrutiny?

Do you remember the story about the curator at the British Museum ? He was accused of stealing small objects from the museum’s archives and selling them on eBay. He invented an identity—this is alleged, has not been proven yet—but he invented an identity and said a relative had died and he discovered these artifacts in the dead relative’s house. And he was just now putting them up for sale—didn’t know what they were.

But as you learned—and it was lesson 639—you learned that story didn’t stand up to scrutiny. His payment profile didn’t match his eBay name, and the payment profile matched the name of a curator at the British Museum. And these objects for sale were missing from—you guessed it!—the British Museum.

A criminal mastermind this guy was not. His story didn’t stand up to scrutiny. And it wasn’t even the police or the museum who discovered it—it was a customer on eBay! Crazy story—check it out PlainEnglish.com/639 if you want to hear the whole thing.

“Stand up to scrutiny” is not just used with truth and lies, crime and justice. It can be used with any argument.

A geologist and art historian says she has found the location of the Mona Lisa . The background has never conclusively been identified. There have been theories. But now a geologist says she has matched the geographic features in the painting’s background with a specific area in Italy. And she also says she has evidence from DaVinci’s notebooks that he was there. The answer? Lecco is the site of the Mona Lisa, the scientist argues.

Will that argument stand up to scrutiny? Time will tell, because you know there will be scrutiny! The Mona Lisa is the most famous portrait, maybe the most famous painting, in all of history. Everyone will want to analyze, to scrutinize, this new theory. You know people will go to that area and take photos. They’ll use drones. They’ll analyze every word written in DaVinci’s notebooks. And if there are flaws in this theory, people will find them.

So is Lecco where the Mona Lisa was painted? The theory sounds good—to me, anyway, a non-artist and non-scientist. But there will be a lot of scrutiny in the next few years. We’ll soon know if this theory stands up to scrutiny.

Who, by the way, is the woman in the painting? It’s not known conclusively. But the most popular theory is that it’s Lisa Gherardini. That theory has stood up to scrutiny over the years. Thought it’s not known 100 percent for sure, it’s now widely accepted that the woman is Lisa Gherardini.

Lesson 649 was all about academic studies and how…well, let’s just say many of the findings you read about in journal articles don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Many of them do! The majority of studies published in high-quality, prestigious journals are honest and valid. But some of them do not stand up to scrutiny. The problem is, there isn’t much scrutiny involved. The system of publishing scientific findings is largely based on the honor system.

But a group of skeptic academics started a blog and they looked at a lot of popular studies and found the findings don’t stand up to scrutiny. You might remember that one of the studies that didn’t stand up to scrutiny was about dishonesty—how’s that for irony!

See you next time!

That’s all for us here at Plain English today, Thursday, June 6. We’re almost halfway through the year! June 6 already.

Remember this was lesson number 681. That means JR has uploaded the full transcript to PlainEnglish.com/681.

Today, I mentioned a few other stories we’ve done in the past. We’ll link to them in the transcript if you want to get them. But we’ll also link to them in the newsletter that JR sends out. He sends an email every Monday and Thursday with details of that day’s lesson, plus some interesting links and quizzes that we think you’ll enjoy.

So if you’re not getting those, go to PlainEnglish.com/mail and make sure to sign up. PlainEnglish.com/mail to sign up to get JR’s emails every Monday and Thursday.

We’ll be back next week with a new topic. See you then.

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