I just read an interesting essay entitled "The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete" over at Wired, by Chris Anderson. Here's the link. He asks "What can science learn from Google?" Here are some excerpts:
"Sixty years ago, digital computers made information readable. Twenty years ago, the Internet made it reachable. Ten years ago, the first search engine crawlers made it a single database. Now Google and like-minded companies are sifting through the most measured age in history, treating this massive corpus as a laboratory of the human condition. They are the children of the Petabyte Age."
"This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves."
The essay general speaks to the intrinsic value of a data in vast numbers—that by listening to the data, you can predict a lot without an underlying theory. Models are continuously trying to catch up with data. While I'm not personally ready to abandon scientific theory, it's definitely an interesting theory in it's own right.
There's a feature over at Wired on the Petabyte Age, which you can read here.