I discuss several issues about the irreversibility of the RG flow and the trace anomalies $c$, $a$ and $a’$. First I argue that in quantum field theory: $i$) the scheme-invariant area $\Delta a’$ of the graph of the effective beta function between the fixed points defines the length of the RG flow; $ii$) the minimum of $\Delta a’$ in the space of flows connecting the same UV and IR fixed points defines the (oriented) distance between the fixed points; $iii$) in even dimensions, the distance between the fixed points is equal to $\Delta a =a_{UV}-a_{IR}$. In even dimensions, these statements imply the inequalities $0 \leq \Delta a \leq \Delta a’$ and therefore the irreversibility of the RG flow. Another consequence is the inequality $a \leq c$ for free scalars and fermions (but not vectors), which can be checked explicitly. Secondly, I elaborate a more general axiomatic set-up where irreversibility is defined as the statement that there exist no pairs of non-trivial flows connecting interchanged UV and IR fixed points. The axioms, based on the notions of length of the flow, oriented distance between the fixed points and certain “oriented-triangle inequalities”, imply the irreversibility of the RG flow without a global a function. I conjecture that the RG flow is irreversible also in odd dimensions (without a global a function). In support of this, I check the axioms of irreversibility in a class of $d=3$ theories where the RG flow is integrable at each order of the large $N$ expansion.

Class.Quant.Grav. 21 (2004) 29-50 | DOI: 10.1088/0264-9381/21/1/003