In 1903 John Burroughs published an Atlantic Monthly article attacking popular nature writers—among them William J. Long and Jack London—as "sham naturalists."

The spirited "nature fakers" controversy that ensued reveals much about public attitudes toward nature at the time. Burroughs's argument that the writers invented facts and reported them as the gospel truth prompted a public literary debate, fueled by the avid participation of the nation's leading magazines and newspapers, and President Theodore Roosevelt's own denunciation of the 'faker' contingent. At issue was the conflict between science and sentiment as methods of understanding the creatures of the wild.

Ultimately, as Ralph Lutts demonstrates in The Nature Fakers, the dialogue resulted in a new standard of accuracy for the responsible nature writer and reflected a new way of thinking about moral responsibilities to wildlife.