It has been said that scientific research is now entering a ‘fourth paradigm’ . While the earlier paradigms are characterised by experimentation and reasoning, the latest approaches are strongly driven by the availability of data at an unprecedented scale, and by the computational resources with which to extract the maximum value. Perhaps the classic exemplar discipline is bioinformatics, in which the human genome project has allowed a complete representation of the micro-level components and interactions which make up our physical bodies. The remaining challenge for scientific research, which is of course much easier to state than achieve, is ‘simply’ to deploy the methods, resources and imagination to discover the meaning in these rich streams of raw data. Major journals like Nature, Science and PNAS are now publishing the results of such data-driven research in almost every issue it seems (see for example the genomics special issue of Nature, 470 or the Big Data News Special, Nature 455).