It's also a pet peeve of mine that biologists insist on calling their organisms "complex," a very specific, technical term which I have never seen justified in biology. They are complicated, but I have seen no evidence that they are complex. There are problems of graph theory that are complex, but the graphs that biologists insist on writing down of protein interaction and genetic networks aren't sufficiently well posed to take any difficult mathematical problem that appears in them seriously.This is a timely point as I've been thinking quite a lot lately about words that, like 'complex', have both an everyday meaning and one or more specialized meanings. Evolutionary biologists have been fumbling with this problem as it arises for the word 'theory'. When we speak of 'the theory of evolution' we are using the work in a very special philosophy-of-science sense, but creationists then criticize evolution as being 'just a theory', using the term in its everyday sense and counting on the general public not knowing the difference.
One context where such words create big problems is for students learning science. In biology we have words like adapt, assort, base, segregate, phase, message, membrane, sex. Two colleagues even wrote a whole article about many meanings of the one word 'cross' ("The crosses genetics students have to bear"). The teaching fellow associates with my Biology 121 course has been compiling a list of such words, and I'm going to ask my students to start collecting them for their own learning.
But I've also started putting out feelers about such words to linguists and educators, wondering if they have insights into how our brains (and our students' brains) deal with such words. I'm even wondering if we might get together a workshop of researchers in different disciplines to try to clarify the issues they raise.