Glusman, the vice president and executive editor at Crown Books, made a similar point about the stylistic decision to forgo footnotes in his letter to Nature.

Still, it’s fair to assume that most reporters would rather be referenced directly in the text. They work hard and they deserve the credit. I take Safina at his word when he says that he “was trying to be a honest broker and trying to be fair to the sources,” but it’s not hard to understand why hard-working journalists like Mascarelli and Pittman would take umbrage at the way he appropriated their work.

Heavy lifting from news articles has a long history in nonfiction book writing, and Safina is not the only author to have relied too heavily upon it under deadline, but it has grown much more common in the digital age, with blogs and websites of all sorts re-posting the primary reporting of professional news outlets. It has also grown easier to catch, however, and in the business, journalists still use an old-fashioned expression when criticizing this type of cut-and-paste work.

Safina’s book may have a lot of admirable qualities—including wry criticism of the government and the oil industry’s response to the Gulf oil spill—but too much of it “smells like glue.”

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.