In a nation preoccupied by race, the moment when white Americans will make up less than half the country’s population has become an object of fascination.

For white nationalists, it signifies a kind of doomsday clock counting down to the end of racial and cultural dominance. For progressives who seek an end to Republican power, the year points to inevitable political triumph, when they imagine voters of color will rise up and hand victories to the Democratic Party.

But many academics have grown increasingly uneasy with the public fixation. They point to recent research demonstrating the data’s power to shape perceptions. Some are questioning the assumptions the Census Bureau is making about race, and whether projecting the American population even makes sense at a time of rapid demographic change when the categories themselves seem to be shifting.