So, this was the scene for the second working group meeting on Communication for the NanoMed project I've been involved in. Idyllic, isn't it?
By way of explanation, a group of about 15 of us arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany last week to discuss a set of recommendations for communicating about nanomedicine. The aim is to produce a document, by the end of October, that will inform policymaking in the EU. Our group is one of five - the others are Patient Needs, Ethics and Societal Impact, Economic Impact and Regulation.
Despite the distractions of mountain and lake, we were remarkably productive and have now managed to put together an outline of our recommendations ahead of the final meeting in November. Since they are far from set in stone, I won't hint at what these might be, but something quite interesting that arose from the meeting was the recognition of a kind of tension between hype and healthy imagination surrounding new technologies.
One of the case studies we looked at included a film featuring futuristic notions about nanomedicine applications - in particular, a kind of in-body monitoring system operated by a touchscreen on the back of the user's hand. According to the film, such a system would employ nanotechnology to diagnose and monitor disease and could, for instance, help diabetics to keep tabs on their blood sugar levels.
Whilst the idea generated some degree of merriment and scepticism around the table, there was also very real concern about giving patients false hope. This was countered by two arguments: first, that hope is an important aspect of patient psychology, and secondly, that imagination and creativity are what drive advances in science and technology. (Support for this second argument can be seen in the development of technologies inspired by Star Trek).
Personally, I think it's important to dream, but then I would say that - I'm a "creative". We can't stop people creating these kinds of fantastic visions - how boring would the world of science communication (and the world in general) be if we did? At the same time, it's obviously important to take a measured approach and help people to understand how close to reality these visions actually are. In the end, we all had to agree to disagree and, in fact, I think this is probably the right outcome.