The Nature Fakers controversy arose from a new literary movement, in which the natural world was depicted in a compassionate rather than realistic light. Works such as Ernest Thompson Seton’s Wild Animals I Have Known (1898) and William J. Long’s School of the Woods (1902) popularized this new genre and emphasized sympathetic and individualistic animal characters.
In March 1903, naturalist and writer John Burroughs published an article entitled “Real and Sham Natural History” in the Atlantic Monthly. Lambasting writers such as Seton, Long, and Charles G. D. Roberts for their seemingly fantastical representations of wildlife, he also denounced the booming genre of realistic animal fiction as “yellow journalism of the woods”. Burroughs’ targets responded in defense of their work and the resulting controversy raged in the public press for nearly six years.
The controversy effectively ended when President Theodore Roosevelt publicly sided with Burroughs, publishing his article “Nature Fakers” in the September 1907 issue of Everybody’s Magazine. Roosevelt popularized the negative colloquialism by which the controversy would later be known to describe one who purposefully fabricates details about the natural world.