Dwi Hartanto: One Year After
Part II: The Faulty Checkpoints
PREVIOUS: Part I: Introduction
After Hartanto’s deception crumbled down in October 2017, the overwhelming majority of attention went to Hartanto himself. Many public figures condemned him after the revelation, including the head of People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Zulkifli Hasan and B.J. Habibie himself.
However, simply blaming Dwi Hartanto for being the culprit of the scandal is akin to blaming the burglar for the heist of a bank with a flea-bitten security system. Whenever there is a massive scandal, the main perpetrator is just the trigger; the system abused by the malefactor is what makes the transgression astronomical. Hartanto’s case is not an exception. While none of the contributing parties are inherently malevolent, at the end of the day they are responsible for making the scandal what it is.
The Online (and Print) Media
After Hartanto admitted his lies, the media was relentless on covering Hartanto’s scandal; some went as far as suggesting that Hartanto is a mythomaniac (Exhibit C). As useful as it is for the breakdown of the case, the commodification of Dwi Hartanto by the media is ironic considering that the media’s oversight is the very thing that kick-started the scandal itself back in 2015, as well as being the vehicle that Hartanto rode to feed the typhoon. As such, the mainstream media was also held accountable for their lack of verification.
The Beginning: TARAV7s
The entire media exposure of Hartanto’s egregious claims started by a set of articles by Detik, Okezone, ANTARA News, Tempo.co, and Media Indonesia, as well as Jawa Pos (print). Despite minor variations, all of them basically told the same story:
Dwi Hartanto, an Indonesian doctoral candidate from TU Delft,
successfully designed and launched TARAV7s, a three-staged hybrid
engine rocket equipped with an ‘innovative’ ‘active aerodynamics system’.
The sensor systems and flight modules are ‘controlled by a main flight
module’ with ‘an octa-core processor’ with ‘64-bit GadoGadoOS’ as its
operating system. The rocket successfully carried a ‘scientific payload’ to a
347 km-orbit and broke several records. The project was backed by
several institutions, namely the Dutch Ministry of Defence, National
Aerospace Laboratory of the Netherlands, ‘Airbus Defence’, and ‘Dutch
Space’. After the success, Hartanto et al. were tasked to ‘design a new
rocket capable of carrying a payload to a 1000-km low Earth orbit’.
One noticeable thing about all of these articles is that the entire body of the articles, barring the Kemenkominfo scholarship information, came straight out of Hartanto’s press release (according to Kumparan, Hartanto did the release in June 2015). None of them bothered to verify the rocket’s specifications to aerospace engineering experts independent of the TARAV7s project, or even tried to confirm the launch by sending an enquiry to the listed supporters (Dutch Ministry of Defence, NLR, or Airbus Defence and Space). Moreover, none of them bothered to check whether the Netherlands has any operational rocket launch facilities (it does not, excluding former V2 launch sites).
Some people were quick to blame Detik for planting the seeds of the scandal by their now-infamous June 12, 2015 article written by journalist Eddi Santosa. While it is true that Detik was the first to bring exposure towards Hartanto’s fraudulent claims, it doesn’t mean that it served as the basis of the other articles (Okezone, ANTARA, Tempo.co, and Media Indonesia) within the third quarter of 2015. There are two reasons for this:
- Instead of basing them on the Detik article, Okezone, ANTARA, and Tempo.co, which published their own piece three weeks after Detik, based their articles on a now-retracted press release by the Ministry of Communication and Informatics (Kemenkominfo) (more on the ministries’ role later). Media Indonesia, which published their article last on August 1, based it on both Detik and Kemenkominfo/ANTARA News article.
- Kumparan stated that Hartanto did a press release to multiple reporters in June 2015. This suggests that at least some of the articles, presumably Detik’s and Kemenkominfo’s press release, were created independently from each other.
One might argue that one should place more blame on Detik for creating a ‘fear of missing out’ sentiment within the Indonesian online media circle regarding Hartanto, which leads them to post their own version. While not unreasonable, this revealed another problem with the Indonesian media besides of lack of verification: mindless bandwagoning.
Indonesian people are ravenous of inspirational stories and achievements, as L.T. Handoko pointed out. This is especially true when it comes to science and technology. Indonesia suffers from the drought of international recognition of its academic and research standing; Dicky Pelupessy’s analysis of SCImago data revealed that the number of citation of scholarly articles from Indonesia in 2016 is lower than Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Worse, an earlier analysis of the data set by Scholastica Gerintya in Tirto suggested a downward trend of the metric since 2013. This lack of recognition by the international community resonates with the public’s longing of an Indonesian figure in science and technology.
Naturally, the Indonesian media capitalised this nationalistic sentiment, which is evident by the number of articles about ‘accomplished’ Indonesian scholars, such as the ‘Helmholtz equation solver’ and the ‘inventor of 4G’. As such, motivated by the allure of potential traffic and share of advertisement revenue, online news sites rushed to publish articles about Hartanto, regardless of the truth. When one site posted a story, the others followed suit. No one stopped to consider whether the story is factual or not. As an example, contrast this to what The Guardian and The Washington Post did after the rumour of Japan’s First Lady Akie Abe feigning his inability to speak English when meeting Trump at a G20 event surfaced.
Disclaimer: I am not making any statement regarding The Guardian’s and The Washington Post’s quality of reporting, one way or the other. I am only using the articles for a demonstration of contrast.
The way news sites created the articles varied. This is especially evident after Kemenkominfo posted their press release on June 30. Just two days after the Kemenkominfo post, Okezone posted their version, which is a bastardised attempt at paraphrasing the original release. On the other hand, ANTARA News posted their version — basically just a rearranged version of Kemenkomifo’s article — the day after. Tempo.co straight off rehosted ANTARA’s piece on the same day. Regardless of the way the articles were created, however, none of them involved the addition and synthesis of new information; all of them are just modifications of the previous. This regurgitation of information by the online media amplified and cemented the dawn of Hartanto’s falsehood.
The Rise: ‘The Next Habibie’ and ‘Sixth-generation Fighter Jets’
The role of the online and print media did not end at starting the spread of Hartanto’s lies. They were also instrumental in the spread of the idea of Hartanto being ‘The Next Habibie’. Specifically, Jawa Pos — both print and online — as well as its fellow Jawa Pos Group member Batam Pos reported about Hartanto’s fictitious personal meeting with B.J. Habibie in The Hague. While Hartanto did meet Habibie in December 2016, it was in a joint event held by Indonesian Student Associations (PPI) in the Netherlands (PPI Belanda/ISAN), Indonesian Student Associations in the City of The Hague (PPI Kota Den Haag)², and the Indonesian Embassy (Exhibit D|Exhibit E).
Contrary to the Jawa Pos’ report, Hartanto’s meeting with Habibie was not a ‘long, lively discussion about science and technology’ or an event ‘done by Habibie’s personal request’. Instead, it was ten-minute special Q&A session — done per Hartanto’s own prior request to the embassy (Hartanto’s clarification, Section VII, first point) — in a special iteration of PPI’s monthly Lingkar Inspirasi event. While being watched by many PPI members, Hartanto asked a grand total of one question to Habibie about how to deal with the pressure of forgoing Indonesian citizenship, all while keeping up the pretense that he was specialising in spacecraft technology.
The online media was also responsible for spreading the notion that Hartanto developed fighter jets, both the ‘Eurofighter Typhoon NG’ and the ‘sixth-generation fighter jet’. The former was first mentioned by the same Jawa Pos Group publications that publicised Hartanto’s meeting with Habibie, while the latter was popularised by Liputan6.com and Gatra in June 2017, as well as an official release just over a week prior by the Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education (Kemenristekdikti) (more on that later). Despite Kumparan’s extensive coverage on Hartanto, they also came close to releasing Hartanto’s story on this topic as well, if it was not because of PPI Delft’s and others’ concerted effort to batter down Hartanto’s lies in mid-2017, which forced him to inform Kumparan to cancel the publication.
Just like the TARAV7s articles, the corpus of the Liputan6.com article, the Gatra article, and the ministry release are the same. All of them mentioned that Hartanto developed a ‘sixth-generation fighter jet’ powered by ‘hybrid air-breathing rocket engines’ as the topic of his research titled ‘Lethal Weapon in The Sky’. According to the articles, the research was so impressive that his team from ‘ESA/ESTEC’ won an award in the ‘Spacecraft Technology’ category in an inter-space agency competition. To spice things up, Hartanto’s presentation of his research also piqued the interest of Lockheed Martin and NASA JPL representatives. Considering that the contents of all these articles are very similar, it can be hypothesised that, like the TARAV7s articles, they were sourced entirely from Hartanto’s media release.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, both the Habibie and the fighter jet stories laid bare the failure of the media to verify their source (emphasis on the singular form). Jawa Pos did not insinuate anything about any attempt to contact Habibie to comment on the meeting. More importantly, none of the journalists of the fighter jet articles were interested to find out who held the research competition. Was it DLR (Germany’s space agency)? Its logo appeared on the prize check in Hartanto’s photo, after all. Not to mention that the competition was supposedly held in Cologne, DLR’s headquarters. They could have tried opening DLR’s page to look for any announcements regarding the competition.
Moreover, Hartanto was holding a certificate in the photo, with ‘Galactic Problem Solver’ written on it. A quick Google search of the phrase revealed that it was a certificate of participation for a NASA-ran annual global hackathon for students, with Noordwijk (The Netherlands) as one of the venues. The Noordwijk page even revealed the truth about Hartanto’s participation in the competition; he was a part of Team ‘Water Wizards’, which did not win any awards.
The stories of TARAV7s launch, meeting with Habibie, and fighter jets demonstrated the critical involvement of the written media in the creation and spread of Hartanto’s deception. The legend of ‘The Next Habibie’ Hartanto was a beast whose creation and nurture were facilitated by the media for their own benefits. Ironically, when Hartanto confessed, it was also the media who killed and dismembered him en masse.
The most depressing part, however, is that the media seemed to learn nothing from this debacle. Many of them reported that Hartanto claimed to graduate from ‘Tokyo University’¹ (Exhibit F|G|H|I), despite his own formal clarification that he claimed to graduate from Tokyo Institute of Technology (TITech) (Section II), a completely separate institution. If Hartanto’s scandal was not enough to trigger a widespread change in the online and print media, what will?
As important the written media’s role was in Hartanto’s case, however, saying that they are the only party who should be blamed is asinine.
MetroTV (and the Television in General)
The involvement of the television media did not differ much compared to the online media. Just like the online media, television networks feasted on Hartanto’s remains after the whole case blew over (Exhibit J|K|L|M). This was done despite previously publicising him before his fall from grace, albeit — for most networks — to a lesser extent (Exhibit N|O). One network stood tall above the rest when it comes to publicising Hartanto, however: MetroTV.
Throughout the late 2016 and mid-2017, MetroTV broadcast Hartanto in two high-profile occasions. The later one was in a September 2017 special interview with B.J. Habibie titled Habibie Menjemput Impian (‘Habibie Fetches His Dreams’), presented by D.B. Selamun. In a segment of the programme, Selamun briefly brought up Hartanto when Habibie mentioned that he has many ‘intellectual sons’. Hartanto’s (fabricated) biography was also shown on screen; it showed his previous claims such as launching TARAV7s and winning the inter-space agency competition³.
The former — and now more infamous — MetroTV broadcast was in a November 2016 special episode of the network’s award-winning talk show Mata Najwa. Titled Mata Najwa Goes to Netherlands[sic]: Jejak Bapak Bangsa (‘Footsteps of the Founding Fathers’), the programme documented Najwa Shihab’s visit to the Netherlands. In the final segment of the programme, Hartanto was specially interviewed by Najwa (as she is commonly called). She asked about Hartanto’s activities within the last seven years in TU Delft, in which he answered by retelling the TARAV7s story previously stated in the online media. There was some new information, but it was mostly Hartanto regurgitating his tall tale while Najwa — supposedly the pinnacle of critical journalism in Indonesia — ate it all up.
There were many questionable claims, both known prior and novel. Namely, how he managed to wrap an Indonesian flag on a European rocket that has nothing to do with Indonesia whatsoever, as well as his story on how he managed to get to the ‘inner circle’ of research and development at ESA as an Indonesian student. That being said, the cream of the crop is definitely this statement:
Hartanto: ‘I am currently a postdoctoral [fellow] here…’
Hartanto: ‘Yes. And an assistant professor.’
For a layman, this might not sound ridiculous (‘Oh, so he is an assistant of a professor?’). This is not the case for anyone with even a sliver of knowledge of academia. ‘Postdoctoral researcher’ usually refers to a training position held by a doctoral degree possessor. This position is usually limited by a fixed-term employment contract and not considered ‘tenure-track’. On the other hand, an ‘assistant professor’ position is considered ‘tenure-track’, in which promotion to an eventual professorship is possible. It is impossible for a person to hold both of these positions at the same time, as they are very different in nature.
One can argue that it is understandable that Najwa was not aware of this distinction. After all, her highest education is a Master of Laws (LLM) from the University of Melbourne, which is geared more towards professionals than academicians. However, this ignores the fact that the show has a production team behind it. Did none of the crew members notice this oddity? Not to mention that this does not change the fact that Mata Najwa has served as a platform for Hartanto to get his story seen as legitimate, as well as getting his story spread even more to a larger audience. Infuriatingly, neither Najwa Shihab, any of the show’s production team member, nor MetroTV released any clarification or apology after Hartanto’s confession. For comparison, even Batam Pos added an editor’s note about the scandal on their Hartanto article.
This irresponsible behaviour is especially disappointing considering that Mata Najwa was considered as one of the most respected and critical programmes in Indonesia. In early 2016 and 2017, Mata Najwa was regarded by surveys held by the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (Komisi Penyiaran Indonesia/KPI) as the most watched talk show in Indonesia, as well as the talk show with the highest quality index. To make things worse, in the 2016 survey, the programme had the highest ‘increasing critical thinking ability’ score (page 20). Considering that the Indonesian broadcasting scene was (and is) filled with putrid filth such as Pesbukers, Dahsyat, and Istriku Bohong tentang Kehamilannya, it is easy to think how the Indonesian public quickly accepted Hartanto’s story as stated in Mata Najwa as the truth.
This whole debacle shows that not only even the ‘best’ of Indonesia’s media completely failed at stopping Hartanto on his tracks, they also unknowingly facilitated him to build his empire of deception. Mata Najwa — and the rest of the media — seemed to be more interested in looking sharp and factual (and getting advertisement revenue) instead of actually being so. This abhorrent state of affairs carried a massive risk of feeding the consumer inaccurate information, which might lead to monetary and integrity loss.
Both of which did happen. Sadly, on entities that should have been less susceptible.
The Authoritative Bodies
The lack of integrity caused the media to let Hartanto’s fabrications to be spread to their audience, including the authorities. Subsequently, this false information were used uncritically to make questionable decisions. Despite this, compared to the media, the responsible government bodies received way less flak from the public. Which is unfortunate, since their ineptitude at verifying Hartanto’s accomplishments and background not only nourished Hartanto’s deception significantly, but also costed them their reputation and — in the case of Kemenristekdikti — taxpayers’ money.
The first authoritative body that played a role in spreading Hartanto’s nonsense is Kemenkominfo. On June 30, 2015, as stated above, Kemenkominfo released a press release about Hartanto’s TARAV7s launch (since deleted). While this might seem less severe compared to the two discussed later, the Kemenkominfo press release was a critical component in the scandal, as it was used by Okezone, ANTARA News, Tempo.co, and Media Indonesia as the basis of their 2015 article. It is easy to think how this release encouraged the four sites to publish their articles. Since Kemenkominfo served as an ‘authority’, it can be presumed that the release was seen as valid information. This makes Kemenkominfo’s recklessness in releasing the information even more unfortunate.
Kemenkominfo’s transgression was tame, however, compared to the rest. At least Kemenkominfo did not give Hartanto anything tangible (except a scholarship, but it was given in 2007, way before the whole fiasco began).
Embassy of Indonesia in The Hague
On August 17, 2017, the Embassy of Indonesia in The Hague bestowed an award to Hartanto ‘for his work in spacecraft technology’ in conjunction with the 72nd Independence Day Ceremony held in Wassenaar, The Hague. The award was detailed in an ambassadorial decree⁴ which has since been rescinded with another decree⁵. Unfortunately, no trace of the first decree can be found on the Internet. This means that the basis of considerations the Embassy used to bestow the award and the nature of the award are unknown. The second decree — the one used to revoke the first — is just as cryptic. The only reason they cited for the rescission is ‘the occurrence of dynamics and developments outside of presumptions and good intentions’.
Interestingly, the award was revoked on September 15, three weeks before Hartanto’s admission. Despite this, the first time this was known by the public was through the Embassy’s press release and the subsequent Gatra article on October 4. This means that, for reasons unknown, the embassy had been withholding this information for almost three weeks before finally revealing it. It is unknown what encouraged them to finally publicise this important development, but it is suspected that Deden Rukmana’s open letter on October 2 made the scandal regarding Hartanto widespread enough to prompt the Embassy to clarify their stance regarding the issue.
What the Embassy did, however, does not even compare to what Kemenristekdikti did to honour Hartanto’s ‘achievements’.
The lapses of judgement done by Kemenristekdikti is the most severe, both in terms of scale and number of occurrence. In total, Kemenristekdikti did three blunders related to Hartanto’s scandal, one of which resulted in monetary loss. Their least critical mistake is similar to Kemenkominfo’s: releasing faulty press releases about Hartanto’s competition victory (as stated earlier) and his ‘sixth-generation jet fighter’. Unlike Kemenkominfo’s, however, it did not seem to trigger any further news publications (fortunately).
The second — and more severe — blunder is their decision to admit Hartanto in the ‘Visiting World Class Professor’ (VWCP) programme in December 2016. VWCP was a jointly-held programme by Kemenristekdikti and Indonesian International Scholars Association (I-4), in which around 40 overseas-based Indonesian faculty members were invited and temporarily brought back to the country. The scholars were sent on a Ministry-funded one-week visit to Indonesia to hold lectures in several Indonesian universities as well as to give recommendations to the ministry with the goal of bringing Indonesia towards the scientific world stage. Since the basis of the programme was to improve Indonesia’s human resource quality, it is natural that only the most accomplished and productive Indonesian scholars should be chosen to be included in this programme. Naturally, this means that the candidates’ faculty position and academic performance should be carefully vetted.
Unfortunately, the Ministry’s decision to admit Hartanto was based on ill-advised considerations. Despite their claim of accepted candidates having to ‘serve a faculty position, possess proof of academic performance, and be recommended by fellow scientists and other elements of society’, in reality this was not really the case. Menristekdikti official Ali Ghufron Mukti stated that the considerations used to accept Hartanto were his claim in his CV of him being an assistant professor in TU Delft (something that could be verified easily in TU Delft’s site), Hartanto’s media appearances (which consisted of his own false statements), and ‘several recommendations’ (from unspecified sources).
To make things worse, one of the factors specifically mentioned by Mukti was Hartanto’s Mata Najwa appearance, which is the very episode in which he stated that he is both a postdoctoral fellow and an assistant professor. While the Ministry stated that at one point they were sceptical about Hartanto’s true status in TU Delft during their interview, Hartanto somehow managed to convince the Ministry to include him in the programme. Funnily enough, Mukti even stated himself that he did not trust Hartanto from the beginning! If so, then why did the Ministry brushed off the status inconsistency issue and left it unresolved before deciding to fund Hartanto’s participation in the VWCP programme?
Finally, after Hartanto admitted his lies, the Ministry stated that while they condemned Hartanto’s actions, they decided not to penalise Hartanto in any form. No temporary or permanent ban of him participating in Ministry’s activities, no damage reimbursement, nothing. The reasoning? According to Mukti, this is apparently because ‘Hartanto already faced a heavy social punishment’, especially considering that ‘Hartanto is still young and has a lot of potential’. This is akin to a court deciding not to mete out bank robbers any punishments because the robbers were already assaulted by myriads of enraged mobs. Besides being asinine considering the loss of taxpayers’ money, the Ministry’s action set a dangerous precedent. This means that if an academic misconduct happened again in the future, the perpetrator would not get punished by Kemenristekdikti if he or she has been figuratively battered to death by the public.
Kemenristekdikti’s recklessness, lack of verification, nonsensical reasoning, and soft attitude in handling Hartanto’s case are collectively the most infuriating part of the scandal. If the very institution responsible for handling an entire nation’s research and higher education failed to uphold integrity, then the less said about the future state of Indonesia’s research, the better.
The fact that Indonesia’s authoritative bodies were successfully deceived by a 35-year old graduate student is a depressing reality. At least the Blue Energy and the Supertoy cases were partly due to a government insider’s influence. In comparison, Hartanto is a nobody. Even worse, none of them issued any apology for their gross incompetence; the embassy quietly rescinded the award, while both ministries quietly deleted their press releases and condemned Hartanto’s actions, as if he is the only one responsible for the scandal.
Disappointingly, the failure of Kemenristekdikti to uphold factuality extended to several scholarly organisations that should have known better.
Indonesian Students Associations (PPIs)
Despite the importance of the work of PPI Delft and ISAN (PPI Belanda) in bringing Dwi Hartanto to light, they are not absolved of blame. First of all, both PPI Delft and ISAN also publicised Hartanto’s TARAV7s claim in June 2015 (both articles were since deleted).
In the case specific to ISAN, in their own clarification statement⁶, they also admitted to issuing a poster of their Scientific Writing Workshop (SWW) 2017 event with ‘Dr. Dwi Hartanto’ written on it, complete with the erroneous statement of him being an associate professor in aerospace engineering. Just like Kemenristekdikti, the invitation of Hartanto was also done based on ‘recommendations from friends and colleagues’. However, they stopped short of finalising the invitation and replaced him with another instructor instead.
Furthermore, they also admitted to publicising Hartanto’s meeting with Habibie in their Lingkar Inspirasi event (as detailed previously), and claimed to since corrected the press release about the event. However, the December 20, 2016 capture of the press release in the Wayback Machine does not show any differences between the versions of the release, and the current version is still showing a photo of Hartanto’s close meeting with Habibie in the main figure. Strangely, ISAN stated that DH’s summoning to the stage was done ‘unbeknownst’ to them, which is odd considering that the event was theirs and they uploaded their documentation to their own YouTube channel, which shows Hartanto’s meeting with Habibie. These observations suggests that instead of being unbeknownst, Hartanto’s summoning was unexpected.
As for PPI Delft, while they were the crux of the investigation team (along with the TU Delft alumni), there are indications that the way they did their investigation was secretive and non-transparent. As an example, in a series of public Facebook posts, A TU Delft alumnus who was also a member of PPI Delft⁷ claimed that she was harassed by other members of PPI Delft in the Association’s Facebook group after the alumnus criticised the deletion of posts about Dwi Hartanto in the group by the administrators. The harassers brought out the alumnus’ citizenship status (the alumnus changed citizenship from Indonesian to Dutch) and used it as a reason why the alumnus ‘no longer belongs in the Association’.
In another occasion, the then-chairman of PPI Delft refused to comment on the existence of the Hartanto investigation team, while also stating that they would not make any further comments besides their official statement published on the PPI Delft website. However, the statement did not specifically condemn Hartanto; they broadly stated that they ‘strongly condemn all forms of public deception’. Furthermore, they also stated that they ‘uphold the presumption of innocence until the suspicion has been verified by TU Delft and/or the Embassy of Indonesia for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in The Hague (KBRI Den Haag)’. However, until the day this article is posted, there are no further statements from PPI Delft regarding Hartanto.
National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN)
In May 2017, Hartanto was invited by LAPAN to serve as a speaker in their International Seminar on Aerospace Science and Technology (ISAST) 2017 event as a keynote speaker. Usually, in scientific conferences and seminars, keynote speakers are invited based on the assessment of their body of scientific work, which consists of journal publications and patents. However, according to the head of LAPAN, Thomas Djamaluddin, the basis of his invitation by the committee was Hartanto’s media coverage instead of his body of work. This is a similar mistake as the one done by Kemenristekdikti when vetting VWCP candidates.
According to Kumparan, the ISAST invitation was never accepted by Hartanto. Despite this, ISAST’s organising committee decided to place Hartanto’s name on the conference page (archived June 16, 2017) anyway. Notice that, despite the lack of confirmation, there was no indication on the page that Hartanto was merely invited and had yet to respond. Normally, in this case, the invitee’s name would be marked by an ‘invited’ mark or separated into a whole other category of ‘invited speakers’, neither of which existed on the conference page. This error alone could be considered false promotion, which is rather unethical on its own.
Fortunately, before LAPAN managed to embarrass themselves even further, a group of several people identified as ‘LAPAN’s colleagues’ noticed Hartanto’s name on the ISAST page. The group, which included former TU Delft alumni in Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) as well as in the Netherlands, subsequently initiated an investigation regarding Hartanto’s true background (this was actually the first time someone did a concerted effort to clarify the truth regarding Hartanto). After a long period of investigation, Hartanto’s true nature was finally known to the group in early September 2017. This result was reported to LAPAN, which was immediately followed-up by the cancellation of Hartanto’s invitation and removal of his appearance from the ISAST 2017 page.
While revoking Hartanto’s invitation was a proper action, LAPAN should not have invited Hartanto in the first place, considering the questionable basis of his invitation. Perhaps somewhat hypocritically, Djamaluddin later stated to Merdeka that Hartanto’s scandal should serve as a lesson of verification for the media. Not to mention that the ISAST committee never apologised for their oversight.
Indonesian International Scholars Association (I-4)
While a member of I-4 who personally knows Hartanto was a critical player in the disintegration of his lies, this does not mean they are cleared of any responsibility. As mentioned previously, I-4 was a collaborator of Kemenristekdikti for VWCP 2016. After Hartanto’s admission, in their press release, they stated that ‘the mechanism of candidate funding and vetting were entirely under Kemenristekdikti’s authority’, which implied that I-4 were not at fault regarding the selection of Dwi Hartanto as a VWCP participant.
I-4’s stance regarding Hartanto’s participation in VWCP strongly suggested that they were unwilling to take responsibility for the oversight. Even if I-4 did not have any say in selecting candidates (therefore, not at fault), the fact that they cooperated and attached their name to the event was enough reason for them to be held accountable. If they cared about integrity so much (Point 1 in their Statement of Stance), why did they not do their due diligence in making sure that the candidates of their co-coordinated event are actually qualified, then? It is unfortunate that I-4 was willing to throw Kemenristekdikti under the bus when the situation regarding the VWCP event and Hartanto did not go in their favour. As incompetent Kemenristekdikti were during the candidate selection process of VWCP 2016, at least they showed commitment to not repeat the same blunder in the next iteration of the event.
The fact that even scholarly organisations were trapped under Hartanto’s deceit is disheartening. If research institutions such as LAPAN were easily tricked by things that could have been easily debunked by a simple Google search, as well as forgoing academic performance for media-based hype-ocracy, then how can we trust them to perform quality, impactful research? If an association of scholars is not willing to be held accountable for their actions, then how can we be sure about their integrity? People distraught by the scandal might think, ‘it is easy for us to say that the media should verify technical information that they do not understand to the experts , but if some of our so-called ‘experts’ were just as gullible and unscrupulous as the average Indonesian, can we, the laymen, really trust them?’
This is why Dwi Hartanto’s scandal was so damaging. The elaborateness of how Hartanto executed his deception unintentionally made the fool out of many parties — from the media to scientific communities — who should have prevented academic swindlers like Hartanto from thriving. There were so many points where Hartanto could be stopped between the span of two years from when he started lying to the media in June 2015, and yet all of them were successfully avoided by him until some people who knew Hartanto closely — including the members of PPI Delft — decided to take the matter into their own hands. While they successfully pressured Hartanto into confession in October 2017, it was a little too late; the parties who were deceived by Hartanto had their skeletons in their cupboard exposed to the public.
This is probably why everyone responsible for this scandal quickly pointed their fingers to Hartanto. They were trying to distract the public from looking at what lies behind their public faces, which were melting after Hartanto hosed them down with blazing jet fuel. Akin to a group of Soviet Armed Forces marching to Berlin, everyone rapidly and relentlessly attacked Hartanto in unison. The media started reporting on his transgressions en masse, while the government and other responsible parties condemned him to oblivion. Some of them doing so while also announcing that either it was not really their fault or their oversight did not really matter.
They were successful. The majority of the Indonesian public were enraged. They equated Hartanto with Anniesa Hasibuan or armchair-diagnosed him with mental illness. Hartanto was bullied to the point of him vanishing from the public eye, not appearing ever since. When the dust has settled and the public shifted their focus to other issues, the parties who were responsible for bringing Hartanto to stardom survived with minor scratches, while Hartanto’s remains were left being feasted on by the ravens. While the media also got a tonne of flak from the public for their lack of verification, ultimately they got a major net victory from gaining an obscene amount of site traffic and advertisement revenue. All while learning absolutely nothing.
When I first looked back into Hartanto’s scandal, I researched the case with the mindset of it being an instance which the perpetrator got caught and punished, unlike Taruna Ikrar or Terawan Agus Putranto. I was wrong. Researching this case made it clear to me that actually happened.
Everyone responsible got away with it — except Dwi Hartanto.
NEXT: To be continued
¹ ‘Tokyo University’ does not really exist. What people usually refer to as ‘Tokyo University’ is 東京大学 (Tōkyō Daigaku), commonly abbreviated 東大 (Tōdai). While the direct translation of 東京大学 is indeed ‘Tokyo University’, the actual official English name they decided to go by with is ‘The University of Tokyo’, abbreviated ‘UTokyo’.
² Not to be confused with Indonesian Students Association in The Hague (PPI Den Haag). PPI Kota Den Haag only serves Indonesian students in the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, while PPI Den Haag serves Indonesian students in The Hague in general.
³ Interestingly, Habibie stated that he already met Hartanto, but for some reason he mentioned that Hartanto also ‘had patents related to petroleum engineering’. This is inconsistent with publicly available evidence stated above, and no evidence for this claim could be found on the internet.
⁴ Decree of the Head of Representatives of Republic of Indonesia for the Kingdom of the Netherlands No. SK/023/KEPPRI/VIII/2017 about the Award for DR. Ir. Dwi Hartanto
⁵ Decree of the Head of Representatives of Republic of Indonesia for the Kingdom of the Netherlands No. SK/029/KEPPRI/IX/2017 about the Rescission of Decree of the Head of Representatives of Republic of Indonesia for the Kingdom of the Netherlands No. SK/023/KEPPRI/VIII/2017 about the Award for DR. Ir. Dwi Hartanto
⁶ Clarification Statement of ISAN No. 100/P/e/PPIBelanda/Sekretaris/X/2017 about the Reporting and Publication of Mr. Dwi Hartanto (DH) in ISAN’s media
⁷ According to PPI Delft’s Constitution and Bylaws, ‘ordinary members’ (anggota biasa) of the Association (active students) become ‘extraordinary members’ (anggota luar biasa) once graduated (Bylaws, Chapter I, Article 1, verse 1b).