02 ADVOCATING INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION  |  INDONESIA

Part 2

Unshakable Optimism

For Berry Juliandi, the draft law hiatus means an opportunity to be proactive and carefully execute his ‘soft politics’.

(Photo: Melvinas Priananda for WCSJ 2019)

“Don’t worry,” a Whatsapp text just popped up on my phone.

 

It was a message from Berry Juliandi, the newly elected Secretary General of Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences (ALMI) whom I have been following for months. The previous day, when he was mentoring international students on animal evolution in Belitong island, he sent me the Inventory Problem List (abbreviated as DIM in Indonesian) of the country’s draft law of science and technology system. The DIM lists all criticism and suggestions made by the lawmakers regarding every article of the draft law, including those governing the practice of foreign research collaboration. “We got this from the Secretariat in DPR,” he said, referring to the country’s House of Representatives (DPR).

 

I immediately downloaded the DIM, scanned through the hundred-page file, and found a striking line: Of 10 political parties in Indonesia’s House of Representatives, six of them supported the criminal sanctions for foreign scientists proposed by the government, and the rest even suggested for heavier sanctions: two hundred billion rupiahs or 15 million USD must be paid by those who export research materials (both physically and digitally) without a material transfer agreement. This amount is a hundred times higher than the proposed sanction.

 

The government says the draft laws are designed to protect Indonesia’s natural resources and to increase local capacities in science and technology. But foreign scientists are obviously anxious. In July, the group of Danish researchers who conducted the high-profile study on the recent evolution of Indonesia’s sea nomads canceled their trip to Sulawesi because they were so rattled that the draft law would be imposed on their controversial study. Other foreigners said they would act similarly if the proposals are passed into law.

 

Edgar Turner, an entomologist from Cambridge University in UK who has been conducting a biodiversity research project in Indonesia over the last few years, told me that he would prefer to do research in Malaysia if the proposals are passed into law. He said the neighboring country is smaller but they are “friendlier” to international science.

Dr. Edgar Turner collaborated with Indonesian researchers to investigate the state of biodiversity in oil palm plantations. (Photo: Eleanor Slade)

“Obviously Indonesia needs to be careful to maintain its rights over its research, its areas, and its biodiversity. That’s all very important. But international collaboration is also very important,” says Turner, who is the Curator of Insects in Cambridge’s Museum of Zoology

 

Phillipe Borsa, a marine geneticist from French Research Institute for Development who has conducted research on the genetics of sting ray population in Indonesian waters, expressed the same concern. “Indonesia is certainly one of the most difficult countries to do biodiversity research today. And constraints on biodiversity research are counter-productive,” he says, referring to an international study which examined how Nagoya protocol and similar regulations could hamper biodiversity research. He recalled how his partnership with Indonesian researchers suddenly became awkward and lacking in leverage because of “a letter” which, according to him, came from the Ministry of Research. The letter reminded his foreign counterpart to be careful with him as he might “steal Indonesian biological resources”.

 

Having read all politicians’ supporting statements on criminal sanctions in the DIM, I thought that Turner’s, Borsa’s, and many other’s concerns would likely come true. But Juliandi assured me that there is still a chance to alter the proposals. “It’s just a DIM,” he said confidently in the following Whatsapp text.

Timeline

Lawmaking process in Indonesia. The draft law journey.

Foreign intervention?

 

The draft law has woken up from its long hiatus. In late August, scientists and policy-makers gathered in a national seminar held by the Ministry of National Planning and Development (BAPPENAS). According to Juliandi, the seminar did not discuss the draft law in particular but it was successful in drawing attention back to it. Daryatmo Mardiyanto, a politician who leads a Special Committee for the draft law deliberation in DPR, told local journalists that the draft law will be finalized by the end of the year.

 

Juliandi is skeptical about this politician’s claim. Even though the House had succeeded in releasing the problem inventory list in October, there is still a long way to go before it is approved as law, says the soft-spoken and articulate biologist. According to Muhamad Dimyati, Director General of Research and Development in the Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education (commonly known as RISTEK), because the draft law was originally proposed by the government, the DIM needs to go for government scrutiny before it will be deliberated upon by politicians in a plenary meeting in DPR. The scrutinizers come from RISTEK, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Home Affairs, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, among many others. So, even though public hearings have been closed, “We can still influence them,” he says.

 

In doing so, The Academy of Science plans to gather together all related stakeholders to discuss the draft law. And this time, Juliandi will have a more strategic position to express his views and opinions. Recently he was appointed as the new Secretary General of Indonesian Young Academy of Science (ALMI). The Young Academy was born following a series of science diplomacy engagements between Indonesia and foreign science academies in the US, Australia, and UK. From its founding, it has wielded a strong influence on Indonesia’s science policy-making arena. It works closely with the ministries such as BAPPENAS, the Minister of Finance, and the Ministry of Research and Technology (RISTEK), as well as foreign institutions such as British Council (UK) and Knowledge Sector Initiatives (Australia).

Berry Juliandi in an informal talk with his Young Academy fellows. (Photo: Indonesian Young Academy of Science)

But Juliandi denies that ALMI’s view on international research regulation is triggered by foreigners. “It is our original idea to work against the criminal sanctions,” he says. He thinks that foreign influence is almost zero in this case. Even though the DIM shows support for criminal sanctions, he is optimistic that lawmakers are leaning toward its removal. Despite the DIM, “The most influential people in the working group told me that the article needs to be revised. They are aware that it sends negative message to foreign countries. They seem to have changed their mind because of our feedback,” he says.

 

But Borsa, the French scientist, is not convinced. “I am afraid that he may be too optimistic. The draft law resonates with the declarations of a number of politicians and scientists for the last five years; and there’s no doubt nationalism is on the rise in Indonesia, especially in the year that precedes national election,” he said. 

"I am an ordinary scientist"

 

But I trust what Juliandi says. I think he has an impressive ability to convince people. “He looks smart,” says Harry Surjadi, a senior science journalist who heads the Society of Indonesian Science Journalists (SISJ). Last October, Surjadi had a chance to moderate a session with Juliandi during a Wallacea week in Jakarta. It was the first time Surjadi had had a close interaction with the popular biologist, and his first impression was positive. It’s likely that this charisma had convinced the “influential people” with whom he had discussions regarding the draft law.

 

The biologist easily impresses people whenever he talks at an event. He is knowledgeable, articulate, and sometimes humorous. “When I trained people about scientific writing, I would always get a call the next morning to speak at another workshop in different cities. It is usually the previous workshop participants who invites me,” he says. When he told me this, he was aware that he might sound “narcisstic”, but I found much supporting evidence for his claim. In the last three months, he had traveled to many Indonesian cities and trained people in more than 20 universities, including respected universities such as Bandung Institute of Technology and University of Indonesia.

Looking at his insect specimens. Juliandi easily manages switching his time and attention between research and political activism. (Photo: Melvinas Priananda for WCSJ 2019)

These frequent contacts with new people have made the sanguine biologist popular. In October, The Conversation Indonesia mentioned Juliandi’s name as one of Indonesia’s most popular scientists in their podcast. He had also been interviewed by local television to give explanations about science in everyday life.

 

“But I am basically an ordinary scientist,” he says. In between his busy schedule, the biologist still manages to do research on his campus. Tempo, Indonesia’s well-respected media, featured him as one of the nation’s brightest minds for his research on the effect of Indonesian traditional herbs on learning and memory. He has also collaborated with scientists at the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Indonesia to investigate the potential of umbilical stem cell for stroke treatment.

The positive polymath

 

And most impressive of all, he has just received a Wallacea research grant from the UK-Indonesia science and technology collaboration program. Last October, The Newton Fund and RISTEK earmarked 1.25 million USD for his research project entitled Forecasting biodiversity losses in Wallacea from ecological and evolutionary patterns and processes. Juliandi is the youngest grantee; the other four are veteran scientists with professorships on biodiversity.

 

His research focus is actually animal structure and development, morphometrics and stem cells in particular. But he is also tech savvy, he frequently uses R and other software for his morphometrics research and he will apply it in his new research.  “We will use computer modelling to forecast how landscape change affects biodiversity levels. This will be useful information for policy-makers,” he says. For this research, Juliandi will collaborate with Professor Justin Travis from the University of Aberdeen, UK.

RISTEK’s Director General, Muhamad Dimyati, awarded a Wallacea Grant to Berry Juliandi (third from the right). Both have previously met in person at meetings and conferences. (Photo: Ministry of Research and Technology)

Dyna Rochmyaningsih

The journalist

 

Dyna Rochmyaningsih is a freelance science journalist from Indonesia who has written for various international science publications such as Nature and SciDev.net. She is a member of the Society of Indonesian Science Journalists and is an alumna of Science Journalism Cooperation (SjCOOP) Asia, organised by the World Federation of Science Journalists. Dyna received her science degree from the Department of Biology, Bogor Agricultural University near Jakarta. Her work covers a wide range of topics such as health, climate change, science policy, and the intersection between science and religion.

Berry Juliandi

The scientist

 

Berry Juliandi is a member of Indonesia’s Young Academy of Science (ALMI) and a researcher in the Department of Biology at Bogor Agricultural University. Juliandi is also Head of the Veterinary Stem Cells Laboratory at the University, as well as Chief Editor for the Journal HAYATI Bioscience (Elsevier). He has done research in the field of neuroscience, stem cells, and animal morphometrics. Juliandi has also been active in promoting scientific culture in the public sphere.

Juliandi is certainly a rare kind of Indonesian scientist. Besides his stellar performance in research and political activism, the biologist is also the editor-in-chief of Hayati Journal of Bioscience, the first Indonesian journal hosted by international publisher Elsevier. This year, under his leadership, the journal has been endorsed by RISTEK as the best scientific journal in Indonesia. Apparently, in between his busy days of research and politics, Juliandi also manages an international journal. It sounds like an impossible task, but Juliandi says, “I can check emails and manuscripts on my smartphone whether on a train or a remote island.”

 

I also asked to him whether all his recent achievements related to his political activism, --whether the endorsement of Hayati journal has something to do with his close relationship with RISTEK, and whether the Wallacea grant is given because he is the Academy’s most active member. He answered, “Not at all. All the reviewers are independent. But I do believe that my outside campus activities, my discussions with other scientists and policy-makers, give me insights on how to do science in Indonesia,” he said.

 

Maybe it sounds like a hyperbole, but I think Juliandi is today’s Indonesian polymath. I was hesitant to write this word, but the biologist has mastered the science of making friends with influential people, leads a science journal, mentors students, and does high-quality interdisciplinary research at the same time. Now I wonder if Borsa and Turner will change their minds and trust Juliandi’s optimism about the draft law.

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