According to Thomas Kuhn, the success of 'normal science,' the science we all practice on a daily basis, depends on the adherence to, and practice of, a paradigm accepted by the scientific community. When great scientific upheavals occur, they involve the rejection of the current paradigm in favor of a new paradigm that better integrates the facts available and better predicts the behavior of a particular scientific system. In the field of Alzheimer's disease, a recent example of such a paradigm shift has been the apparent rejection of the 'amyloid cascade hypothesis,' promulgated by Hardy and Higgins in 1992 to explain the etiology of Alzheimer's disease, in favor of what has been referred to as the 'oligomer cascade hypothesis'. This paradigm shift has been breathtaking in its rapidity, its pervasiveness in the Alzheimer's disease field, and its adoption in an increasing number of other fields, including those of Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and the prionoses. However, these facts do not mean, a priori, that the experiments extant, and any re-interpretation of them, should be accepted by rote as support for the new paradigm. In the discussion that follows, I consider the foundational studies leading to the oligomer cascade hypothesis and evaluate the current state of the paradigm. I argue here that, more often than not, insufficient rigor has been applied in studies upon which this new paradigm has been based. Confusion, rather than clarity, has resulted. If the field is to make progress forward using as its paradigmatic basis amyloid β-protein oligomerization, then an epistemological re-evaluation of the amyloid β-protein oligomer system is required. © 2013 BioMed Central Ltd.