Soft Politics at a Hiatus
Every scientist knows that science is a collaborative effort: it works best when it is done together by many people with different perspectives and nationalities. And Berry Juliandi, a determined Indonesian biologist from Bogor Agricultural University (IPB), understands this very well. The 40-year old scientist has witnessed how hundreds of international research projects have transformed his university to become one of the first class research centers in Indonesia. In his own department, research collaborations with scientists in Japan, Europe, and the United States have mined high quality PhDs and important scientific discoveries published in high quality journals such as Nature and Cell. “A good network with foreign scientists is our capital to improve our science,” he says.
Juliandi himself gained a PhD degree from Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Japan, where Noble Prize winner Sinya Yamanaka first investigated induced Pluripotent stem cells (iPs). Here he acquired knowledge and skills that catapulted him to become one of the most highly cited Indonesian young scientist. And he came back to Indonesia at the right time, when Barack Obama’s science diplomacy had just started to empower young Indonesian scientists. In 2012, shortly before he and his family moved back to Indonesia, Juliandi was selected to speak at the US-Indonesia Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium in Solo, Central Java. On that occasion, the father of four showed up at the podium as a bright and promising young scientist, eloquently presenting his stem cell research. Sangkot Marzuki, the President of Indonesia’s Academy of Sciences, was impressed and later welcomed Juliandi as one of the members of Indonesia’s Young Academy of Sciences (ALMI). The event was also where he first befriended US scientists and other prominent Indonesian scientists outside his university, including Laksana Tri Handoko, the current Head of Indonesia’s Institute of Sciences. “That event was a crucial point in my career as a scientist,” he says. If it was not for that event, which was a collaboration between US and Indonesia’s Academy of Science, Juliandi could not have achieved what he has now: being inside the circle of elite and influential scientists in Indonesia.
But his beloved country, which endured colonialism for more than three centuries, has started to feel threatened by international science. A number of Indonesian scientists have reported their disappointment in foreign researchers who collect biological specimens without informing local authorities, ignore ethical regulations stipulated by local review board, and treat Indonesian scientists as ‘unequal partners’.
“Those cases are not justifications to criminalize foreign researchers,” he argues. According to Juliandi, these troublesome foreigners are just a tiny part of the total number of foreign researchers in Indonesia. Of 832 publications resulting from international research projects in Indonesia, only 6 % excluded the names of Indonesian scientists. “The good ones are actually the majority,” he says.
But the government thinks differently. They are so enraged by these ‘colonial’ foreign scientists that they plan to give them criminal sanctions: 2 years in jail or 2 billion rupiah, really hefty fines. These punishments are parts of Indonesia’s draft law for science and technology which also stipulates all foreign scientists in the country must submit their raw data, involve Indonesian scientists as equal partners in their research project, and name them in every scientific publication arising from the work.
“These criminal sanctions could hamper international collaboration in Indonesia,” says Juliandi. He argues that these punishments could be replaced by other existing laws such as deportation for foreign scientists who don't have research permits, or journal retraction for those who are proven to conduct unfair research collaboration with Indonesian scientists. He also believes that the foreign contribution is crucial for Indonesia’s science because foreign research agencies have a higher research budget and more sophisticated technology. He doubts the government will provide the same support. The criminal sanctions need to be removed, “if not, foreign scientists won’t be happy working with us” he says. Data from RISTEK has already shown that the trend of international research collaboration is decreasing year by year in Indonesia.
Juliandi mentored his students in Cibodas Natural Reserve, West Java. (Photo: Melvinas Priananda for WCSJ 2019
In January, he and and some of his colleagues in Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences delivered these arguments to the politicians in the House. But until now they haven’t heard back from them.
To become a law, the draft law needs to pass two phases of deliberation and a plenary meeting in the House. Currently the draft law is still in the first phase of the deliberation, and the last deliberation process was in May. “But there is a rumor that politicians have postponed the first phase of deliberation process,” says Juliandi.
The political climate in Indonesia is heating up as the country heads to the Presidential Election in 2019 . Experts say Islamic populism and ultra-nationalism are on the rise in the world’s third largest democracy, with local politicians resorting to sectarian and nationalistic rhetoric to get votes. And science is not a ‘sexy’ political commodity, Juliandi says. The draft law is stuck in the House.
His colleagues in the Academy of Science were also busy with other agendas. “We were supposed to discuss the draft law with politicians in the Academy’s office this June but it has not happened,” says Juliandi. But he fully understood the reason behind this delay. “There was just a few of us and we were so overwhelmed,” he says.
But as a single-minded person, Juliandi did not just sit in his office during this hiatus. In fact, he saw this stagnant condition as an opportunity to execute his own strategy in approaching the government and the lawmakers. He calls it “soft politics”, which means approaching politically important persons through sincere acts of friendship and brotherhood. Juliandi himself is not a leader of any organization. “I can’t use it as a vehicle to bring my ideas,” he says. But he has something more powerful: social network and public speaking skills. By using this skills, he easily befriends people who hold crucial positions in Indonesian government and the scientific community.
RISTEK data shows that international research collaboration is decreasing year by year in Indonesia
Juliandi’s first maneuver was to befriend top officials from the Ministry of Research Technology and Higher Education, commonly known as RISTEK. He knows that Indonesia's President, Joko Widodo, has no interest in the country’s science. The Academy of Science has sent a number of letters to Widodo asking for a meeting but the president has never answered them. “He prefers to meet comedians and celebrities rather than having a serious talk with scientists,” he says.
Given this situation, Juliandi thinks that RISTEK holds the highest authority in shaping Indonesian research ecosystem. It was also Mohamad Nasir, the RISTEK Minister, who signed the controversial draft law and submitted it to the politicians in the House back in 2017. And luckily for Juliandi, he has access to the people in this Ministry.
“It all started in 2015,” he says. At that time, Juliandi was one of very few Indonesian young scientists who had a high impact research publication. For this achievement, RISTEK invited him to review research proposals submitted for RISTEK funding. Since then, Juliandi has been trusted to work with the Ministry on many occasions, such as workshops and meetings related to the national research ecosystem. Here, he built his network with RISTEK officials.
From June to July, Juliandi had a hectic schedule. As requested by RISTEK, he travelled to many cities in Indonesia to speak about the improvement in research quality at local universities, as well as to train local scientists to publish papers in international peer-reviewed journals. In these meetings, he made friends with local scientists which extended his network in Indonesian scientific community. “The past three months were so dynamic for me. It was exciting to meet new people,” he says.
Juliandi listens intently to Muhamad Dimyati, RISTEK Director General for Research and Development. (Photo: Melvinas Priananda for WCSJ 2019)
Some of his colleagues in Department of Biology IPB have concerns regarding these outside-campus political activities. “Berry was one of my brightest students,” ssays Bambang Suryobroto, a senior biologist who supervised Juliandi in his early years as a scientist. He remembers how Juliandi told him that he wanted to be a lecturer in the department. “He was so determined. In his early years as a lecturer, the university did not pay him but he kept on teaching,” says Suryobroto. He was very impressed by his student’s persistence and single-minded character. “But now people are complaining, asking why he is such a wanderer. He is difficult to find on the campus these days,” says Suryobroto. He is very skeptical about Juliandi’s political activism. “He’s lost his focus. This hinders his research and teaching activities,” says Suryobroto.
“They criticize me because they care for me,” says Juliandi. He says all these political activities were done in semester-break and he will never abandon his main job as a scientist and a lecturer. At the end of July, Juliandi even attended a field course in West Java’s rainforest where he mentored students collecting insects and analyzing the wing’s morphometrics. “Just let the facts speak for themselves,” says Juliandi.
Juliandi thinks Indonesian scientists should not just stay inside universities doing research and complaining about the poor funding and science infrastructure in the country. “They should reach out to the policy-makers and try to understand the problems,” says Juliandi. In mid-August, Juliandi got a chance to do just this. In a symposium of Indonesian World Class Scholars 2018, he met RISTEK top officials and prominent Indonesian scientists to discuss possible strategies to improve Indonesia’s science. Juliandi chaired a panel in which Muhamad Dimyati, RISTEK Director General of Research and Development, who sits directly under the Minister of RISTEK, and some respected Indonesian scientists, discussed strategies to improve the state of basic research in Indonesia.
According to Juliandi, RISTEK is already on the right path to improve the general state of Indonesian science. Based on some discussions with his RISTEK friends, the Ministry is actually struggling for better science policies, such as proposing a multi-year funding scheme and simplifying the bureaucracy of research reports to the finance ministry. “But they have mixed support for the criminal sanctions in the draft law,” he says.
Juliandi discusses the state of Indonesia’s science with LT. Handoko, the Head of LIPI. (Photo: Melvinas Priananda for WCSJ 2019)
Getting along with LIPI
Juliandi then began approaching Laksana Tri Handoko, a physicist who at the helm of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). In the draft law debate, Handoko and some of his colleagues in LIPI are the proponents of criminal sanctions. The institution has experienced a number of cases when they felt ‘betrayed’ by foreign scientists. Handoko was one of the masterminds behind the draft law. It is also a good coincidence for Juliandi that he had already connected with Handoko at the Kavli conference a few years ago when the physicist led LIPI’s laboratory for theoretical physics.
At the end of the conference day, Juliandi made a short trip to LIPI’s building and stepped into Handoko’s office. He could have met Handoko in the conference hotel earlier that day but the LIPI chief had asked him to come to his office. The conversation started with some snacks and a little catch-up. For Indonesian scientists like them, discussing the state of Indonesian science is the main course in every dialogue. “We firstly talked about the next generation of scientists in Indonesia and how the current policy supports them to strive and we finally talked about the draft law,” says Juliandi
Juliandi is keeping the result of this meeting confidential for this early stage of negotiation. However, he can be sure that Handoko agrees that some controversial aspects in the draft law, including the criminal sanctions, need to be reconsidered for further deliberation. “I am optimistic that we will find a common ground in the issue,” he says.
Juliandi seems very determined about this political strategy. “I think I’ve reached my target for this period,” he says. He predicts the draft law deliberation process will be more dynamic in the next few months. Despite the hiatus, the draft law is listed as one of Indonesia’s National Legislative Priorities in 2018. Juliandi’s analysis is that Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), Joko Widodo’s political party, seems to take the issue as one of their political commodities. Although science is often neglected by politicians, they do care about the issue of human resources. “And we are going to make this case in the next few months,” he says.
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 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.