Dwi Hartanto: One Year After

Part I: Introduction

It has been one year since the media circus of Dwi Hartanto. Once hagiographically nicknamed ‘The Next Habibie’, his name is now treated as if it was taken straight out of Fukushima Daiichi. Perhaps it is an apt description; within the span of seven weeks, Hartanto ‘decayed’ from being the shining figurehead of the next generation of Indonesian aerospace engineers to being compared to First Travel executive Anniesa Hasibuan and former STAP researcher Haruko Obokata. For at least a week after his admission, his name was used as a synonym for the word ‘liar’ in Indonesian language (Exhibit A|B).

Most Indonesian netizens probably know the story. In 2015, Indonesian online media covered Hartanto’s — in many ways more than one — rocket-launching story. Fast-forward to late 2016, when Mata Najwa interviewed him in person in Amsterdam, bringing his tall-tale to a wider audience. He then ‘met Habibie’, travelled to Indonesia as a ‘Visiting World Class Professor’ fully funded, and ‘won’ an inter-space agency competition for designing ‘sixth-generation fighter jets’. As the cherry on top, the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague bestowed upon him an award ‘for his achievements in aerospace’.

Everything that goes up eventually comes down, however. Just like Space Shuttle Columbia, his narrative started disintegrating when Deden Rukmana posted a public statement about him, which was followed suit with a denouncement by PPI Delft. It ultimately came apart when he admitted the entirety of his lies in October 7, 2017, in which he continues to become the prime example on how not to act as a scholar since. Turns out the media are ran by eclectus parrots, Indonesian netizens are a cesspit of gullibility, and government officials got bamboozled once again. The end.

It’s a classic story of Indonesia’s ‘inspirational ground-breaking researcher/engineer’ that has been repeated ad nauseam with minor variations throughout the Reformation era. To name a few, before Hartanto’s case, we already went through Joko Suprapto (Blue Energy and Jodhipati Electricity Generator), Supertoy HL-2, ‘ambarella (kedondong) tree electricity’, and ‘Balinese Iron Man’. Yet as we thought with a sliver of glimmering hope in humanity that ‘this one case is going to be the last’, Indonesians quickly find themselves the next tall tale to fawn over, and the cycle repeats itself.

While this repeating phenomenon is as perplexing as it is hilarious, it’s not like we don’t know what is causing them. LIPI official Laksana Tri Handoko pointed out the low scientific literacy of Indonesians as a factor, while journalism think-tank Remotivi brought up Indonesian media’s allergy of verification. Despite knowing this, however, the fact that similar cases surface over and over again indicates that we have failed to act upon it. Naturally, the appropriate question is: why is this so?

While at a glance Hartanto’s case is like any other before it, the scale and the elaborateness of the execution of this particular fraud made it possible for us to clearly look at other factors that might cause Indonesia’s susceptibility to the perpetual tall tale phenomenon beyond the Indonesian public’s inability to think critically of their consumed material. Indeed, what it revealed is a deep, systemic failure in multiple levels of the Indonesian society regarding its approach and views on academic research. As we go deep inside the wormhole of one of Indonesia’s greatest academic scandal, we are going to discover how entities which should have served as checkpoints let Hartanto manipulated Indonesians like the late Enthus Susmono played a shadow puppet — and how painfully close we were from not being so.

NEXT: Part II: The Faulty Checkpoints